All posts by carl Michael rossi, JD, LPC

Why do we take “Trainings” in Collaborative Practice?

Over the years since my first training in CP–Jan, 2000–I’ve taken over a dozen additional trainings, both basic and advanced. I’ve trained others several times, both basic and advanced. So someone might ask why would you do that?  Don’t you know ‘how to do it’ yet? Okay, so nobody really asked, but I’ll answer it anyway.

There are two ways in which CP differs from the standard practice of law, from ‘litigation’. One is process. The other is purpose. Or, HOW we do things and WHY we do them. Or we might say aptitude and attitude. The latter in all of those pairs is critical. It is what we collectively refer to as the ‘paradigm shift’.

Over the years, I’ve grown a bit concerned as the number of trainings and trainers has expanded–if not exploded–about my perception that the paradigm shift has been getting increasingly short shrift in basic trainings. Its importance gets mentioned, even emphasized, “Collaborative Practice requires us to make a ‘paradigm shift’. To change how we think about things and approach them.”  But little more is said about it; about the nature of the change, much less how to undertake it.  And then ensue 2 days or more of talk and role play about procedure. My concern is that with so much time being spent on protocols, the impression may be given that the paradigm shift means nothing more than simply following these protocols.

There was a note I scribbled to myself recently: “If you believe that you have made the paradigm shift, that alone may be good evidence that you probably have not.” I say that because the ‘paradigm shift’ is not ever complete. Because it is an internal reshaping of 1) how I see myself, 2) how I see my relationship with my client, the other client, and my colleagues, AND 3) what I see as my ‘job’.

That kind of shift is never complete, or done, or ‘made’.  It is always in process. And most importantly, no change in protocols will cause it to happen. Instead it is the shift in paradigm which prompts, indeed requires, a change in protocols. They are both part of Collaborative Practice, but they are not equal. Making one will require the other; but doing the other neither requires nor even prompts the former.

I know it’s easier to teach a course on when and how to meet and keep notes. And much easier to sell such a skills ‘training’.  I don’t mean at all to suggest that ‘how to’ is not helpful and important. However, if all we are teaching is a new set of ‘rules of procedure’, is CP really even worth getting excited about?  I don’t think that the first ‘basic’ training is at all too soon to begin suggesting that the ‘paradigm shift’ involves a good deal of ‘personal work’ and outlining ‘how to’ do that work as well. I hope to see more of it actively incorporated in basic trainings as we continue to grow.


When you are choosing a Collaborative Practice professional, take the time to find out how much ‘training’ s/he has been through.  It does make a difference.

Also keep in mind that any professional who tells you s/he is ‘certified’ or a ‘specialist’ in Collaborative Practice is, well, stretching things.  There is absolutely no organization that ‘certifies’ Collaborative Practice professionals.  So, take the time to find out how involved in CP that professional has been.  Not necessarily how many ‘cases’ they’ve done, but how much they genuinely embrace that they haven’t learned everything yet and so they keep taking trainings.


Collaborative Practice and Dr. Martin Luther King

The notion of “Nonviolence” is associated with Dr. King.  In reading an excerpt from one of his speeches, I realized that his ‘Pilgrimage to Nonviolence’ is also readily applicable to the work at hand in choosing Collaborative Practice.  I adopt his six ‘basic facts’ about Nonviolence as quoted here:  In place of ‘nonviolent resistance’ I substitute ‘Collaborative Practice’ and add some comments.

“First, it must be emphasized that (Collaborative Practice) is not a method for cowards; it does resist. If one uses this method because he is afraid or merely because he lacks the instruments of violence,  he is not truly (engaged in Collaborative Practice). This is why Gandhi often said that if cowardice is the only alternative to violence, it is better to fight … The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually.”

   If you are simply afraid of litigation, think twice about using Collaborative Practice.  It will require your active engagement and clear, though nonviolent statements of your needs going forward.  Not your wants, not what anyone else says you ‘should’ need or want, YOUR best needs going forward. 

“A second basic fact that characterizes (Collaborative Practice) is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding… The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”

An underlying goal and benefit of Collaborative Practice is that it recognizes that you and your soon-to-be-ex WILL have a ‘relationship’ after the divorce.  This is just as true if you use litigation or mediation, or whether or not you have children together, or even whether you ever actually see each other again.  Collaborative Practice supports you in creating a workable, peaceful relationship going forward.

“A third characteristic of (Collaborative Practice) is that the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil … We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.”

“A fourth point that characterizes (Collaborative Practice) is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation….”

“A fifth point concerning (Collaborative Practice) is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. (Collaborative Practice) not only refuses to shoot [the] opponent but … also refuses to hate him.”

None of these three are easy.  We are none of us perfect.  At times your soon-to-be-ex, or one of the professionals, may say something that upsets or insults or hurts you.  S/he may have already done so.  And you will find many people, who do not have to live with the relationship you are creating with your soon-to-be-ex, urging you to hate attack or retaliate ‘because s/he is EVIL’ or some other word.  In Collaborative Practice, we work to resist the urge to take ‘an eye for an eye’.  Insults sent never undo insults received and always elicit more insults.  And anger and hatred are never successfully ‘hidden’ or ‘held onto’  We realize that none of those urges will benefit YOU and we support you in recognizing so and avoiding them.

“A sixth basic fact about (Collaborative Practice) is that it is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. Consequently,     (Collaborative Practice)has deep faith in the future.”

It is the focus on the future that is at the core of Collaborative Practice.  It is also this focus which makes it possible for those involved to work productively together even if they occasionally lapse into bad feelings or negative discourse.  We work together to made decisions that will work for you, your spouse, and any children.  Decisions that will work, going forward.  Not ones that just ‘feel good’ now.

     I believe that most people genuinely desire the kind of end to their marriage that Collaborative Practice actively supports.  One that ‘Transforms Divorce from an Ending into a Beginning.”  I’d be honored by the opportunity to support you in achieving that goal.

Launching an online magazine dedicated to Collaborative Practice.

It is with great joy that Gloria Vanderhorst and I share with you the news that we are just launching “The World of Collaborative PracticeA Magazine Promoting Collaborative Dispute Resolution for the Full Range of Possibilities.”

This will be a free, online publication in which active discussion can take place as well.  In addition to articles, we will offer multimedia items as well including interviews.   Read more about it here.
This is definitely not a ‘professionals only’ publication.  We want the whole world to hear what you have to say!

Our first collection will publish on 11/1/11.  And we invite YOU to submit pieces for consideration.  See the guidelines here.    You can sign up here for our mailing list if you’d like to hear about our new articles and growth!

For more details, and to book mark the site, visit the magazine at:


Gloria Kay Vanderhorst, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
8701 Georgia Avenue
Suite 713
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone:   301-578-8760Fax:  1-202-204-5659
Dupont Medical Building
1234 19th Street NW,
Suite 901,
Washington, DC 20036


Collaborative Practice Chicago
Divorce Without Warfare
carl Michael rossi, M.A. J.D., L.P.C.
Attorney, Mediator, Coach, Counselor

Executive Director, Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois

Parenting with your… EX?!?!

I hear people say, when their divorce is final, “I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with him/her anymore.”  While that is never really true [future post on that], it is most certainly inaccurate when you two have had children.

You want what’s best for your children.  And ALL the research indicates that what’s best for them is a continuing relationship with BOTH of their parents who themselves have a positive working relationship with each other.

“BUT S/HE MAKES ME CRAZY!?!?!?”, you say.  What can you do?  How can you work WITH this person whom you just divorced?  How can you keep your own temper in check, how can you keep from triggering his/her temper?  How do you get heard without believing you have to YELL, how can you get things done and decisions made without…it…taking……..for…ever?!

No one is saying you are a bad person if you can’t.  It’s understandable.  It’s, unfortunately all too common.  But if you want to be able to work with your ex, if you want to do what is best for you children, there is help available.

One source of such help is an upcoming free webinar being offered by Cat Zavis.  Ms. Zavis is an experienced coach and teacher of NonViolent Communication. She also happens to be an experienced divorce attorney who has a great deal of passion for helping people who are divorced work together for the benefit of their children.

Check out some details and register for her free webinar here:

If you are heading toward divorce and want to begin developing your ability to work WITH your ‘soon-to-be-ex’, there is NO better way than by moving through your divorce process using the Collaborative Practice Approach.  If you’re in Chicago, I’d be honored to discuss that with you.


There is only ONE Divorce Process

You may have heard people talk about litigation and mediation and Collaborative Practice.  But actually those are processes that can be used to support you in the divorce process.  The Divorce Process remains the same in each of them.  That process is one of making decisions.  The decisions that have to be made determine your individual futures AND that of your children.

In the end, only a judge can declare that you two are divorced.  You remain married until that moment….no matter how much you may be ready for it to be otherwise, no matter what living arrangements you have, no matter what money may change hands between you….you are still married.  In order for that judge to make that declaration, you and your soon-to-be-ex must agree on the required decisions.  If you don’t, the judge will have to make those decisions and you will both have to abide by whatever s/he decides.

Most people prefer to reach agreement on those decisions for themselves.  And most of them do…or at least reach a ‘settlement’.  [fewer than 5% of divorce cases actually get “decided” by a judge].  But what kind of support do they get in making those decisions?  That’s where the different ‘processes’ I mentioned come into play.

Collaborative Practice

– This approach openly acknowledges that it may not always be easy for you two to work together as your marriage comes to an end.  It provides for not just attorneys, but also financial neutrals and mental health professions to be actively involved in sorting out the circumstances and in coaching you two through the difficulties.  Your attorneys are left free to focus on crafting with you two the best ways to meet each of your, and your children’s, post divorce needs.  YOUR needs, not what someone else thinks you should need.  And not what anyone else says you should ‘want’ or ‘expect’ or ‘demand’.  You two and your professionals sit down together and help you determine those needs and how best to meet them.  Everybody involved agrees in writing that there isn’t even a judge involved until you two reach agreement on the decisions that you need to make.


– This approach also focuses on you two talking face to face with the support of a single person trying to help you do so.  This person is supposed to be completely neutral and cannot advise either of you about ‘the law’ and may not even be allowed to draft any court papers for you.  The support a mediator can give is mostly limited to helping you each to converse in a productive way.


– This is what most people think of when they hear the word ‘divorce’.  A couple who can’t or won’t reach agreement.  Their lawyers each try to get the judge to reach the decision that their respective client ‘wants’.  And then, as it gets closer to the day the judge actually has to make that decision, both of them turn to their respective clients and urge them ‘you should agree to…” something that the lawyers have ‘worked out’.

These are very simplistic descriptions of each of these support processes.  That is intentional, because none of them changes the actual Divorce Process itself.  You and your soon-to-be-ex MUST reach agreement OR a judge will decide for you.  The question that you have to address at the start is, how much and what kind of support will you need in order to work together to reach agreement?

Collaborative Practice offers you the best option for whatever amount of support you need.  If you have any reason to think things may get difficult in your divorce, I hope you will consider this very actively supportive approach.  I hope so because decisions that YOU two work together to agree upon, will be much easier ones for you to continue to be able to live and work with…even after that judge declares that you are divorced.

Feel free to contact me with questions!

Collaborative Divorce may seem risky, but it can be done!

I just finished reading a piece from the Harvard Business review about how to effectively ‘Collaborate’ with business associates.  With thanks to the author, I apply some of her thoughts to working with Collaborative Practice as a divorcing couple.

Collaborative divorce works by treating the couple, and their professionals as a Team.  The task at hand for the team is to reassign the responsibilities and obligations of the couple and and redistribute their assets and liabilities so that each of them AND their children can move forward with their respective needs being met as well as possible.  Not exactly a ‘simple’ task, bot one in which either the couple can see themselves as adversaries trying to ‘win’ or as team members working together toward overlapping goals.  In CP, we support clients in that latter view.

So what’s so difficult and ‘risky’ about working in Collaboration with your soon-to-be-ex?  It almost always comes to some question of Trust.  “How do I trust this person?”  It’s understandable and normal as a couple has moved toward ending their marriage, that there be, well an reduction in the amount of trust between them.  And yet, they need to trust each other enough to work together at the tasks at hand.  How do they do that?  As it was put in the article that moved me:  “How do we lay the groundwork for trust so that when we need to collaborate we can quickly slip into a workable partnership?”  She offers four thoughts that I’ll use as a starting point:

1. “Start with simple exchanges where the cost of betrayal is low.”  As with most of the process, you’ll work with especially the involved Mental Health professionals to find a starting place.  What’s a topic where you DO trust the other person?  There is one….even if it’s only scheduling a next meeting and trusting that s/he will show up.  Another good one will involve gathering documents that relate to finances.

2. “Remember that our collaborators are competent”  You know full well what you’re soon-to-be-ex is good at.  Step aside for a moment from the normal desire to paint him/her as a complete fool, so that you both can benefit from what s/he is good at.  Do this also with your professionals!

3. “Don’t take advantage of our collaborators’ deficiencies.”  You also know what s/he is not so good at.  It doesn’t help you to call attention to wait for him/her to mess up and then to call attention to it.  Really, if they’ve been really bad at remembering tasks, don’t sit in the wings for them to forget something so that you can say “See!!”  Try pretending that s/he isn’t going to do it on purpose.  Instead, raise it in private with your professionals so that they can come up with ways to bolster the deficiency…so that you both benefit.

4. “Give others their due, and expect yours in return.”  When your soon-to-be-ex does something, don’t just take it as a given.  Even worse, don’t treat it as an unexpected surprise!  Instead, recognize that you two are working together and that every you or s/he does to accomplish your goals benefits you both.  Acknowledge it as such.  A simple ‘thank you’ can go a lot further than a ‘fiiiiiinally!’

If you think this sounds difficult, I encourage you to think about what is at stake here.  Your marriage is ending, but engaging in Collaborative Practice with your soon-to be-ex is about giving yourself the best chance at starting your post-marriage life positively.  It may not be easy, but aren’t you worth it?



K.I.S.S. Your Marriage Goodbye

Keep It Civil and Save

Okay, you were expecting a different KISS….and I cheated a bit on that first S.  I hope you’ll forgive the liberty and read on.

Your divorce is not a simple process.  No matter how ready you may be for it to be over, there are decisions that must be made and several of them require considering the needs of several people and various possibilities all at once.  And many of them touch us emotionally.  [There’s a surprise, right?]

And often the emotions that come up will urge you to blame, criticize or even directly insult your soon-to-be-ex.  You may believe you are completely justified in doing so.  Everything you want to say to or about him/her might even be completely factually accurate.  Still, work to keep yourself from doing so.  No matter how much you want this to be ‘over with already’, or even how much you want him/her to ‘pay the price’ for his/her misdeeds, you will SAVE if you Keep It Civil.

What will you ‘Save’?

  • Your sanity – It will make you quite crazy when you see that the angry or hurtful things you say and do not only don’t get you closer to where you want to be, but might even take you farther away.  Honestly, it will.
  • Your children – At some point your children will resent you for the venom you have spewed at their other parent.  It doesn’t matter that you did it ‘to protect them’.  Children neither want nor need to be kept from either of their parents.  And they really do not do well when their parents don’t work well together.  You don’t have to love each other, but you DO and WILL need to work together when it comes to your children.
  • Your assets – Nothing drives up either the duration or the cost of a divorce more than how much a couple fights.  If you can at least treat each other civilly, you can keep a better handle on both.

How do you stay ‘Civil’ when all you want is out, when s/he is such a jerk, when you are afraid of whether you’ll be able to make it…..??? It isn’t easy.  This is why I engage in the Collaborative Practice approach.  It affords the couple who chooses it as much support as they need to maintain their civility so that they can each keep their focus on making decisions and crafting an agreement that will WORK for each of them.  I hope you’ll consider it.

[A colleague of mine has a little book called The Secret to a Friendly Divorce in which he expounds on some of the not always obvious benefits of treating your soon-to-be-ex with respect.  You can check it out here.]

Thoughts?  Comments?  Feel free to contact us directly!