On December 7, 2017, Pauline Tesler, Esq., a California lawyer who has been a pioneer in collaborative divorce practice, gave a presentation before the New York Association of Collaborative professionals entitled “The Art and Craft of Deep Peace.”
During that presentation, Pauline shared Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (“Maslow’s Pyramid”). In the context of a divorce, Maslow’s Pyramid breaks down the various needs that a spouse going through a divorce may have:
At the base of Maslow’s Pyramid are basic needs. Basic needs include physiological needs (food, water, warmth, rest) and safety needs (security, safety). The “snake brain” is the part of the human brain hell bent to satisfy those needs. When basic needs are threatened, they trump all other needs higher up on Maslow’s Pyramid. The snake brain is the most primitive part of the human brain. When something triggers the snake brain, the response is: fight, flight, or play dead, just like a snake. Nothing else matters. The snake brain has not a scintilla of compassion or empathy.
If someone is being deprived of such basic needs, there is an emergency and time is of the essence. Unless a potentially life threatening situation is remedied immediately by agreement, it may be necessary to call the police and get an immediate court order to protect the victim from being starved into submission, or to stop serious domestic violence. Divorce mediation or collaborative divorce is not the way to go in such a crisis situation.
I currently represent a woman whose husband is in jail. This couple has one child. If the husband was not in jail, my client might have very serious safety needs. Why is that? The husband strangled his girlfriend to death. Fortunately, the strangler defaulted in failing to appear or answer the complaint in the divorce action brought against him. My client and I are delighted that we do not have to collaborate with him.
In the middle and top of Maslow’s Pyramid are psychological needs and self-fulfillment needs. Psychological needs are further broken down to belongingness and love needs (intimate relationships, friends) and esteem needs (prestige and feeling of accomplishment). Self -fulfillment needs include self-actualization, and achieving one’s full potential including creative activities.
For most divorcing couples, an interdisciplinary collaborative divorce (collaborative lawyers, divorce coach, child specialist and financial specialist) is the best way to go to meet psychological needs and self-fulfillment needs.
The Limbic and Neocortex parts of the brain enable human beings to have empathy, connection, rapport, communication and creativity. When that happens, psychological and self-fulfillment needs can be met.
As Pauline Tesler explained in her presentation, there can be a Limbic rupture. The miracle of interdisciplinary collaborative team practice can heal such a rupture so that there is sufficient trust and cooperation in order for a collaborative divorce to work. When a collaborative divorce results in a successful settlement, the needs of the parties and the children are met, and they can reach the top of Maslow’s Pyramid. The Neocortex part of the brain is engaged, and the person becomes all that she or he can be. The parties not only obtain a good settlement, they also obtain a good aftermath to their divorce, which is priceless. They can be cordial to one another when they attend their children’s graduations, marriages, and the births of their grandchildren.
Pauline’s presentation regarding Maslow’s Pyramid showed that needs are a high priority in a collaborative divorce, and yet they are largely irrelevant in an adversarial divorce litigated in court where the facts and the law predominate.