For 25 years, Deetta Steinmetz worked as an attorney in adversarial divorce litigation. The cases were plentiful; the money was great. But Deetta just couldn’t do it anymore. She was tired of being part of a process that she felt meant one person winning at another’s expense. She says, “How do you win a Family Law adversarial proceeding? It’s by making the other person look bad.”
For some time, Deetta nursed a desire to do something different with her life. She even took collaborative law training, a process that differs from traditional court proceedings philosophically and practically. It includes both parties, along with their attorneys, a mental health professional, and a financial advisor sitting down and resolving their conflicts together.
She heard about Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic through her church and asked former Executive Director Joshua Abel for a meeting to discuss the community’s need for free mediation services for low-income families. By the end of coffee, she was ready to quit her job and to help the Clinic launch its own program that would incorporate many of the philosophies of collaborative law. And so Project PEACE was born.
As a part of Project PEACE (Peaceful Engagement and Conflict Education), clients must first attend a workshop with a curriculum developed largely by Amy McCabe, a seminary graduate and inspiring force behind the program. The workshop focuses on having the participants think about communication in a compassionate way, teaching them to remove their judgment from their observations of one another. Deetta says, “Most conflict is caused by unmet needs.” Thus, the workshop prepares the clients to work together more easily to meet those individual needs. During the mediation, Deetta serves as a neutral party. She says, “The goal is that everybody wins.”
The day of a mediation, which takes place after both parties have attended the workshop, can be long and grueling. Often, Deetta spends a good portion of the morning simply making sure the participants are calm and focused on their interests, the other person’s interests, and the interests of their children. And then, all together, they can begin to work on things like crafting parenting time and custody.
One of Deetta’s most memorable experiences came after a man attended the workshop. The next day, she received an email from his attorney that said, “Whatever you’re doing at that workshop is pretty impressive because my client came into my office—did not call me, came into my office—and said he wants to dismiss his case against his ex-wife because he has had a complete change of heart and the workshop basically changed his life.” That was a good day.
Since working with Amy McCabe to develop the program, Deetta’s view of forgiveness has shifted. “I think I used to look at it as something you did and even if you prayed about it and tried to make it a spiritual thing, I sort of looked at it as a once-and-done thing … Now I think of it as a continual, evolving process,” she says. “You have to say when it pops up, ‘No, I’m not going to dwell on that. I’m not going to be angry and resentful about that. I have let that go. I have forgiven that and I forgive it again.’ It’s not an external forgiving-multiple-times; it’s an internal forgiving-multiple-times.”
Now, Deetta couldn’t be happier with the work she is doing. She says, “To spend the past two and a half years doing something that I feel is healthier for families—that benefits families instead of making their situations worse—is just completely a dream come true. I am thankful every day, every minute, for this opportunity.”
To learn more about Project PEACE, please click here.