To those of us who practice Collaborative Divorce, the collaborative approach is a clear winner: divorcing spouses each have legal representation by attorneys who commit from the beginning to work collaboratively and toward settlement, working in tandem with both mental health and financial professionals who, as a team, help the divorcing couple to reach settlement and to move ahead with their lives. The couple avoids expensive and protracted litigation and with the professionals’ help, they focus on solutions that make sense for their situation.
The Collaborative Divorce approach traces its beginnings to the early 1990s, just thirty years ago, when litigation attorneys like Stu Webb (in Minnesota) started promoting the idea as “Collaborative Law.” Although trained in mediation, Webb argued that the collaborative approach had advantages over mediation in that each spouse is represented by an attorney who protects their client’s interest as opposed to the mediator who must remain neutral and may not be legally trained. Webb began speaking to other attorneys and judges about the advantages of his “Collaborative Law” approach, where attorneys committed from the beginning of the case not to go to court and to work on settlement from the out-set. Although more common now than in those earlier days, it was surprising for an attorney like Stu Webb to declare that he would no longer go to court and, going forward, would work only collaboratively with other settlement-minded attorneys who committed to the same process. He then sought to enlighten other attorneys and judges about this “better way” to handle the breakdown of a marriage.
Collaborative practice groups have now opened both nationally and internationally. The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (https://www.collaborativepractice.com/) has trained members worldwide, providing for strong professional and ethical standards, as well as providing an online directory for properly trained professionals in most any geographic area.
Despite the obvious advantages of the Collaborative model, old habits die hard. The historic divorce litigation approach has feathered the nest of many an “old-school” divorce attorney, who “battle” with the other side, posturing, demanding discovery and/or threatening prolonged litigation. Because of popular culture and the lack of information, many divorcing couples still believe this to be the only model, and anticipate going to court when getting divorced.
Perhaps the International Academy’s list of collaborative benefits describes it best: “It allows the clients, working together with their professional team, to explore creative solutions to fit their needs on both a short and long-term basis. This may lead to agreements that are not constrained by the posturing, rigid positions, and formulas which characterize traditional negotiations or court-imposed results.”
The idea of Collaborative Divorce has existed for about thirty years, but we must continue to spread the word. For those of us who know someone thinking about divorce, or contemplating the process of divorce, we can help them by making sure they are aware of the “better way” to resolve these family matters - the Collaborative Approach.
Written by David Filer, Esq.
The Collaborative Way to Divorce, by Stuart G. Webb
Hudson Street Press, May 2006