Divorce is a highly personal matter that seems to elicit opinions and reactions from virtually everyone. Legally speaking, it is the dissolution of a contract between two people, and yet the repercussions spread in an ever-expanding circle, much like ripples from the proverbial stone dropped in water.
Unfortunately, the emotional effects of divorce are often exacerbated by the very legal system designed to facilitate and protect. However, there is a growing trend, led by intuitive people like Michelle N. Ogborne of Ogborne Law, to seek alternative avenues.
“As a child and parent advocate, I am passionate about helping families and children successfully navigate the pain of divorce,” she says. “Even more, I prefer to help families avoid the challenges that lead to divorce in the first place.”
Although not a child of divorce herself, Michelle nonetheless was impacted at a young age; touched by one of those far-reaching ripples.
“I was born and raised in a small town in rural Indiana,” she explains. “Everyone knew everyone else, in fact, there were only 120 kids in my graduating class and we’d all been together since kindergarten.”
When she was still young, one of her close friends committed suicide. This was tragic enough, but as she grew older and better understood the surrounding circumstances, Michelle realized that with the right intervention, his death could have easily been prevented.
“Part of why he took his life was because his parents were going through a very ugly divorce, and he got caught in the middle,” she recalls. “They were so busy fighting over stuff, that they didn’t realize how much their son was hurting.
“It took many years,” she continues, “well into adulthood, to realize why I have such a passion for protecting kids. I went into college expecting to become a clinical psychologist, and my research as an undergraduate was resiliency in children. I wanted to understand why some kids go on to become either survivors or, stay in the victim role.”
Her plan was clear, and precisely outlined. She would enter the ASU clinical child program, earn her doctorate and start a practice.
“As luck would have it,” explains Michelle, “I chose the one-year wait list, and found a job.”
Not just any job, but a life-altering experience. At the Salvation Army’s Elim House Domestic Violence Shelter, Michelle worked with women in desperate situations, helping them achieve stability and self-sufficiency. Over the next two years, she ascended to become the shelter’s director, all the while becoming intimately familiar with the horrors facing so many women and children compelled to flee violent situations.
“This experience is what actually prompted me to go to law school,” says Michelle. “I’d never had any ambition to enter the legal profession until I started working in that environment. It was like an epiphany, realizing that my passion for serving and protecting families and children could best be served through the legal system.”
Throughout law school, Michelle honed her skills serving in various capacities including legal extern, law clerk and student attorney. Upon graduation, she began her law career as a product litigation attorney, and for the next four years served as an associate attorney at two prestigious Phoenix law firms. This experience would prove to be extremely valuable in her future role as mediator.
Despite her success, Michelle reached another turning point in her career.
“I decided this wasn’t in line with who I am,” she explains. “I wasn’t protecting children, and while I had become a proficient litigator, it wasn’t my true passion. I encountered what I believe to be one of the greatest travesties in our court system today – the complete destruction of families. As attorneys, we talk about being advocates for our clients; in reality, we’re the ones helping to destroy the family unit through our tactics. And the children end up in the middle.”
Opening the doors of Ogborne Law in 2012 was the symbolic return to her life’s passion and the real reason she had taken the bar. Collaborative divorce was still a relatively new concept in Arizona, so establishing a practice focused on this alternate method was risky. However, Michelle had many things working in her favor. She brought a uniquely combined background in psychology and litigation, and during the last few years as a litigator, colleagues who were aware of her avid concern for female victims and their children, had been referring family law cases to her regularly.
Assuming the role of mediator, Michelle has built a strong and dedicated team of professionals that includes independent attorneys, representing each spouse; professional counselors, to help manage the emotional impact; financial advisers to provide recommendations to divide assets; and experienced mediators to manage the process and create a mutually acceptable final agreement.
“Our approach to collaborative divorce has been more successful, with greater outcomes than I even imagined was possible,” Michelle admits. “Seeing a family traverse the dangerous waters of divorce and come out whole on the other side is an amazingly rewarding feeling. I’m especially happy for the children. Usually they are the ones most hurt by this process, and this way, they have a really good chance of coming through it all OK. It makes me proud of who we are and what we do.”
According to Michelle, there is another positive, albeit unexpected outcome, when couples explore a collaborative divorce.
“Communication is the key to everything, and the first thing we do is refer our client’s to professionals who can assist in this area,” she says. “Part of this increased awareness in the community has resulted in therapists, financial advisers, clergy and others encouraging couples to seek counseling early on. Sometimes they just need to hear the reality of what divorce is going to look like, and the impact it will have on their kids.”
Even when a marriage ultimately does end in divorce, outside help is still beneficial. As Michelle explains, at least then, both parties can walk away knowing that they have done all they could to save it. This leaves them free to focus on their future in a positive way.
In just the few short years since opening her practice, Michelle has experienced overwhelming success evidenced not only in a packed calendar, but in the lives of her clients. Virtually every week, she receives cards, letters and phone calls, thanking her and her team for helping them maintain strong, amicable relationships not only after divorce, but even when one or both of the spouses have remarried.
“One of the most touching examples,” she shares, “was a family going through divorce right around the holidays. I heard from both the husband and wife separately, thanking me for making it possible for them to all sit down at Christmas dinner together, and enjoy the holiday as a family, despite the recent finalization of their divorce.”
A prolific writer and popular lecturer, Michelle has a large following for her blog, which covers topics such as “How Kids Handle Divorce” and “Handling the Ex’s New Relationship” and subscribers anxiously await the arrival of the Ogborne Law digital newsletter each month. In addition, Michelle frequently partners with local counselors, financial advisers and other professionals to conduct workshops and seminars.
Speaking about her own marriage Michelle says, “I have been with Ron for 16 years in a strong relationship that has helped me speak with empathy and experience to clients.”
Referencing the often winding path leading to what she sees as her life mission, Michelle reflectively observes, “Things happen for a reason. We may not always understand the how’s or why’s but if you’re open to the possibilities it’s amazing what opportunities come your way.”