While the internet is filled with pop psychology advice on doing relationships right, few focus on how to do ‘divorce right.’ For lawyer Anne-Marie Cade, it’s not merely her mission – it’s the name of her firm. It’s an ethos that has seen her named a finalist for Wellness Advocate of the Year in the 2019 Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards, winner of Thought Leader of the Year in the 2017 Lawyers Weekly Women in Law Awards and winner of the LexisNexis and Janders Dean Individual Legal Innovation Index Award in 2016.
Insights spoke to Anne-Marie about how she came to be the ‘peaceful divorce lawyer’, and how this differs from the traditional family law process.
Adversarial system is hopelessly outdated
“Family law is a challenging profession,” said Anne-Marie. “You see the nicest people at their worst, and this is very stressful for the lawyers. Everything about the Australian family is changing, including divorce. Yet the prevailing wisdom on how to dissolve a relationship is hopelessly outdated. The adversarial system where we pit one party against another to determine a winner and a loser has not served most family law clients and it has left the lawyers feeling more stressed which affects their mental wellbeing.”
This no-win situation – and the accompanying mental health fallout – caused Anne-Marie to quit her legal practice, which she ran for twelve years, and switch career paths.
“I was tired of lawyering, tired of the adversarial approach and the stress and conflict that seemed to come with the territory of practising law. Even though I adopted an innovative approach using technology, I never seemed to be able to get away from the stress - even when on holiday. I was the "not so happy lawyer." It affected every aspect of my life, my relationships, my attitude and I realised things had to change before it finally broke me.”
Her new career required her to upskill and incorporate mindfulness and wellness practices into all her work.
“I haven’t looked back since,” said Anne-Marie. “I now work with like-minded professionals who share my ethos and hopefully we can together mindfully change the way families separate. This in turn will reduce the stress on legal professionals.”
Building peacemaking practices into how relationships end
Anne-Marie believes it is essential to build more peacemaking practices into how relationships are dissolved. Providing clients with access to Divorce Coaching, Conflict Coaching and Co-Parenting Coaching at the outset helps clients marshal their mental, spiritual and physical resources to make good decisions and get better outcomes.
“It’s about adopting settlement techniques to reduce pain and turmoil for the parties. Statistics show that family lawyers are extremely stressed because hearing clients recall in vivid detail their traumatic stories can cause lawyers stress as well. Within this challenging climate, family lawyers are expected to work diligently and professionally in the service of their client’s interests.
“When I work with clients, I help them move from the story of divorce to the business of divorce,” explained Anne-Marie. “Lawyers often tell me that clients want them to listen to their story, often repeatedly, and this detracts from the legal work they have been engaged to do. Clients then don’t understand and get upset when they receive the lawyer’s bill for the time they have spent using the lawyer as their coach.”
Divorce Coaches help clients deal with the emotional, practical and logistical aspects of their matter.
“Life is unravelling for clients at a pace they don’t understand, and they have all the life admin to cope with on their own. When going through a divorce, a client can’t afford NOT to have a coach. A coach provides the client with clarity and helps makes the process more efficient. The client is more organised and helps the client work towards desired outcomes.”
Stress is also reduced, as divorce coaches help clients approach their divorce with confidence, self-assurance and trust. This in turn means lawyers no longer need to manage client stress and are more focused on the business of divorce – such as the legal issues around co-parenting and property division.
A unique, non-toxic approach: coaching and mediation
Anne-Marie founded Divorce Right as a coaching and mediation practice.
“It is a unique, non-toxic approach to divorce,” said Anne-Marie. “Clients going through divorce are heartbroken, overwhelmed, confused, afraid and are unable to think rationally. I work with them to empower them so they feel more in control of the process and can think rationally and make good decisions about their family moving forward.
“I do this by helping them creatively and consciously reconnect with themselves and get centred,” explained Anne-Marie. “I incorporate a wellness component into the work I do, encouraging clients to concentrate on their breathing when they feel overwhelmed, to take deep breaths because research shows us that this improves our mood and mental performance.
“In times of stress, muscles contract, breathing becomes shallow and the brain loses oxygen. This causes a person to be less responsive, more fearful and aggressive. When clients are more mindful, they are calmer, feel more relaxed and can think rationally.
“Clients are expected to make the most important decisions about their lives when they are most vulnerable; these skills and techniques help dial down their emotions. They can then respond rather than react and communicate more mindfully with their former spouse when they need to, particularly regarding parenting issues.”
Moving from the ‘story’ of divorce to the ‘business’ of divorce
Anne-Marie’s work is inspired by personal experience. Despite being a family lawyer and mediator, her own separation resulted in an agreement that, while acceptable from a legal perspective, wasn’t one she was ready to mentally accept.
Spurred to research further, Anne-Marie found mindfulness practices and started retraining her brain to shift from its own negative narrative. She began seeing the situation differently, which vastly improved her relationship with her spouse.
“I learned techniques to communicate more mindfully and manage conflict which was vital as this is what causes the breakdown of most relationships,” said Anne-Marie. “We have lost the ability or don’t really know how to communicate anymore. Learning these skills is so important in order to improve our relationships - not only with a former partner but with current partners, children, family members and friends. I see this approach as invaluable to clients and to lawyers as well. It’s so important to focus on the human issues; the legal issues are formulaic. I help clients move from the Story of Divorce to the Business of Divorce.”
Practice patience, communicate mindfully, and look for the positive
Anne-Marie recommends commencing each day with a mindfulness practice, such as meditation, and a gratitude practice.
“Be mindful about how you communicate,” urged Anne-Marie. “Practise active listening. We are all in such a hurry that we don’t really take the time to listen to what is being said. We are in the process of formulating a response even before the person has finished talking. Respond rather than react.”
Positive affirmations are powerful.
“However bad things may seem, always look for the silver linings because if you look hard enough you will find it,” said Anne-Marie. “Practice patience. Things don’t always go to plan and there may be a reason for it. Don’t lose patience and focus. Stop and take a deep breath. This will help you cool down and just keep going; you will get there in the end. Divorce is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Getting to root of the problem
“A peaceful divorce does not happen automatically,” said Anne-Marie.
As a coach, Anne-Marie helps clients manage the practical and emotional aspects of the breakup. “Unlike therapy and counselling which focuses on the past and tries to identify what went wrong in the relationship, when clients work with me, as a coach I help them move from where they are to where they want to be, to be future focused and discover their best self. When they are more self-aware, they are able to identify their goals, envision what the future will look like, make a plan and work towards it. I keep them focused on the positive aspects. It’s about shifting their perspective.
“The approach I take is innovative because it goes to the root of the problem,” explained Anne-Marie. “If clients are not in the right mindset and are not mentally prepared for the divorce process, they end up making irrational decisions. They are stressed and this stress is reflected in the interactions they have with their lawyer. They don’t give good instructions as they have not thought through the consequences of their decisions.
“When clients are more grounded and mindful in their approach, they focus on their personal growth, financial integrity and peaceful reorganisation of the family unit. They reach agreement after careful consideration, so they can live with the agreement reached, rather than needing to return to court when they encounter a problem or issue.
“My approach is about incorporating legal wisdom and healthy psychological principles, so decisions are made in a more conscious manner rather than in haste or for the sake of just getting over and done with the whole process. It is the roadmap to a happier, healthier post-divorce life. I work with clients to help them see divorce as the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.”
Creative, peaceful lawyering
Anne-Marie’s experience as a lawyer has offered many opportunities and opened many doors.
“As a result, I have been able to steer my career towards more innovative approaches to problems clients face,” said Anne-Marie. “I now lean towards peace building and a peaceful lawyering approach to achieve outcomes that will be sustainable for my clients. I have also taken many courses and upskilled in non-law related areas to better understand human behaviour. These skills benefit my clients. I love the creativity that can be applied to almost every client meeting - each matter is different. Law is a thinking, mentoring profession, not just a job! This is what I enjoy.”
Ann-Marie is a graduate of The College of Law’s Master Laws (Applied Law) majoring in Family Dispute Resolution Practice. We are so proud of the work she is doing to help families through separation - all while advocating for wellness and mindfulness in the profession.