The media often portray divorce with ex-spouses lawyered up as courtroom adversaries — the same folks who once pledged to hold each other through better or worse now as mortal enemies fighting over the turf of their children’s hearts and minds. Going through a divorce can be a challenging, trying process.
The reality is that divorce is usually much more complicated and nuanced. Most clients I see are sad and confused and grieving and tender and thoughtful and hurt and angry – often all at the same time. And they usually want to seek a gentler way to separate – for their own mental health, for their spirits, and for their children.
Fortunately, for those who want to avoid the intense stress and expense of litigation, there are other process options for transitioning from one household into two –including mediation and collaborative law. While I have focused on mediation in other articles, I wanted this post to focus on collaborative law.
What is Collaborative Law?
Collaborative law (also called collaborative practice) expands upon and provides more support and structure than mediation. It, too, is an interdisciplinary, problem-solving approach to end a marriage and restructure a family. But it looks fundamentally different. With mediation, you and your ex are most often alone in the room with the mediator, speaking and negotiating directly. In collaborative process, your collaborative attorney is in the room with you, acting as your partner while you are negotiating. Like mediation, participants arrive at a tailored, creative solution that responds to the individual needs of their particular family.
I’ve been practicing collaborative practice for nearly ten years. During this time, I have helped clients arrive at inventive solutions that addressed their unique circumstances, including issues such as relocation, substance abuse , religion and business valuation. Collaborative law accommodates and responds to each family’s individual situation. It is a flexible and pragmatic process. My role, as a collaborative attorney, is to be my client’s partner through the process, and to help come up with the best solution that works for everyone in the family.
How does collaborative law work? Each party comes to the table with an attorney who is specially trained in collaborative practice. Collaborative lawyers are trained as mediators, and must balance a delicate line between mediation and advocacy. The group may also be joined by relevant professionals like mental health practitioners or financial professionals. This custom-made team is assembled to address the emotional, financial and legal situation and provide support, knowledge and guidance during the divorce. We work together to problem solve – to seek the best possible arrangement for everyone in the family, given the reality they face.
The process of collaborative law is based on three principles:
- An agreement not to litigate disputes in court—lawyers are allies for the parties and will not be involved in litigating with these parties, which allows for more honest and open communication;
- A transparent and open exchange of relevant (particularly financial) information between parties;
- The commitment to seek solutions that respect the well being of both parties and their children, if children are involved.
The aim of the practice, like that of mediation, is to obtain the best result for the whole family, using the resources available.
My work in collaborative law is effective because I am trained to advocate for my clients and because I am a skilled mediator. When I am working best with my collaborative counterpart, we are seeking to understand our own client’s and their ex-spouse’s common interests and collaborating to meet the needs of everyone involved.
The result is an outcome that respects and benefits everyone. A collaborative divorce is a less stressful, time consuming and costly option than litigation, but more importantly, it enables those involved to work together to reach the very best solution for all parties. With collaborative law, we trade contentious court battles in for a drama-free process that works—and save the courtroom melodrama for TV.