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Ben Papa: Making peace during divorce


By Emily Snell
September/October 2017

Practicing faith at work

Though it may not always be evident, divorce is an opportunity for peacemaking. That's how Ben Papa, a family law attorney and mediator in Brentwood, Tennessee, approaches his work with families.

In his practice, Papa offers only what he considers "problem-solving approaches" – such as mediation, negotiated settlement or collaborative divorce.


"Collaborative divorce says the best way to think about a divorce is as a crisis or problem that needs to be solved, rather than a competition," Papa explained.

The decision to divorce is complicated, he continued, and rather than using a process that will lead to more destruction, he emphasizes solutions that will help clients demonstrate a better version of themselves.

According to the website for Papa's firm, Papa & Roberts, LLC, he strives to "create an atmosphere where his clients can negotiate constructively despite their stress, become effective co-parents, and move through the divorce process with integrity."

Papa said he thinks it's beneficial to approach divorce with the same supportive, helpful energy you would offer to someone who has experienced the death of a spouse.

"Divorce by definition is a problem that has legal, emotional, financial elements that need to be tended to," Papa said, noting how his practice utilizes mental health coaches and financial professionals. "That's a more satisfying, productive way to serve a family going through divorce."

Papa said he specializes in family law because it aligns with his passion for serving others.

"I'm able to live out my values more effectively when I'm helping families through a crisis as opposed to coming in and making it worse," he said. "I decided to dedicate my career to processes that are helping people in crisis."

As a leader for collaborative divorce in Tennessee, Papa is hoping to make a difference for more families.

"I'm trying to change the conversation about divorce in Middle Tennessee," he said, adding that he's going against the "old school story" that treats divorce like a battle.

Papa, who attends Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, said he believes his master of divinity degree from Vanderbilt University helps integrate his faith into his practice.

"Some clients come to me because they know I have the master of divinity degree, or they know me from the church I'm in," he said. "It's a pastoral role in a certain sense."

In those situations, Papa has opportunities to speak about his faith in straightforward ways. He also incorporates his faith in more subtle forms while working.

"Staying in my own skin, staying in my own values, personal integrity – that ends up modeling stability for people who are at risk of being reactive," he said. "When I see somebody I know wants to be a person of integrity but they are spiraling, I will coach them."

Papa coaches clients from "a values perspective" and works to "keep them conscious of [those values] as they are making settlement decisions."

Viewing his work as ministry, Papa said he seeks to be a peacemaker.

"I think as a Christian I am called to help people who are hurting, to help people that are in need move through whatever is going on for them," he said. "People going through a divorce are struggling, and I think they need Christian love and support and guidance. I feel like I'm doing a better job of helping make peace in the world if I'm helping people move through the crisis of a divorce in a more peaceful way."

For Papa, the supportive foundation he finds in his church community enables him to be more effective in his role of peacemaking.

"I have the best United Methodist Church in the conference," he said. "It's definitely ground zero for me around my spirituality. It's where I reboot in community. It's where I feel connected and valued, and I belong."

Emily Snell is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. She writes frequently for Interpreter and other publications.