Our definition of Collaborative Divorce comes from practicing what we have come to call our Family Philosophy over the last ten years of practical, hands-on, cooperative personal life experience. Our story began in 2004 when we “retired” our 18 year marriage, and at that time, had no idea that a detailed, structured, cooperative, resolution-oriented and multi-disciplinary version of what we were doing would rise from the embers of professionals and families alike who would become exhausted and depleted from the standard litigation court-defined, costly, destructive and mostly acrimonious divorce process. It was taking its toll on families everywhere –emotionally, financially and spiritually – not to mention knocking on the door of the moral code of the professionals in the field of Family Law.
Time shift the Paradigm
The time had come for a change. Unbeknownst to us, it was underway and was being championed by a Family Law attorney by the name of Stuart G. Webb, the founder of record of Collaborative Law who co-wrote with Ronald D. Ousky The Collaborative Way to Divorce: The Revolutionary Method That Results in Less Stress, Lower Costs and Happier Kids Without Going to Court (Copyright © 2006 Ronald D. Ousky and Stuart Webb). He began by introducing the idea of agreeing to settle a case without the court’s intervention soon recognized that there had to be a better way of resolving family conflict than through litigation.
…while divorce, even under the best circumstances, is marked by a range of emotions (disappointment, anger, hurt, betrayal, sadness, fear, and loss, to name just a few),research now reveals that HOW a couple conducts themselves during a divorce has far greater impact on their children than the act of divorcing itself.
Stuart G. Webb and Ronald D. Ousaky
As our family embarked on our journey, we knew a healthy divorce was within our grasp and that court in our world of divorce was entirely optional. We found no reason why a court need intervene in our lives, as a matter of fact, we consulted with one attorney, one that I had worked with years before. There was also no need for the traditional garnishing of wages either (which required us to negotiate with the government who are keen to do so to protect those who are not inclined to sustain support payments). We worked together despite now separating our lives, and organized ourselves in a dignified and mindful way. Most importantly, we decided that our children would not only survive the transformation of our family, they would thrive. If it was to be, it was up to us to model the behavior we wanted our children to duplicate and it would all depend on the way we handled this situation. We had seen far too often, children caught in the crossfire and knew it didn’t have to be this way. Our children were our primary concern and I can honestly say that, this has not changed in the 10 years we have been apart. They have never once had to suffer the consequence of many divorces that are fueled by chaos, dysfunction, anger and vindication.
So then, how do the words Collaborative and Divorce, seemingly contractor terms, manage to exist in the same sentence? Easy – because the term is by its very nature attempting to RE-define the paradigm of Divorce as society views it and has come to define it, even in the dictionary. It’s no wonder the philosophy is having such a difficult time seeing the light of day! The word Divorce by its very nature signifies an automatic response of negativity so how might anyone possibly associate a potential positive outcome with these words? Yet collaborative discussions, negotiating strategies and tools exist in all walks of life and it’s no secret that coming to respectful conflict resolution is beneficial for everyone. It is easy? Not necessarily. But in the final analysis, it is worth the effort for all parties concerned.
Society seeks an alternative
So…what if there was a kinder and gentler approach, working together and with the help of a team of dedicated professionals, to reorganize the family from its state of normal to a transformed “new normal”? What if these words were used as the framework of the process: “alliance, assistance, cooperation, co-parenting, change, coalition, courage, combined effort, gratitude, legacy, partnership, praise, pulling together, success, unity, vision for the future” instead? If you knew there was a way that could assist and support the process for you and your children, would you consider it an alternative to what society currently dictates as the divorce procedure? Would you do what it takes to utilize the structure for your kids; for your core family values, and model behaviors you want to teach?
Traditionally, there have been two ways for a divorcing couple to determine how custody of their children and ownership of their assets will be divided. Mediation, the more direct route, consists of negotiations between the two parties with the help of a neutral mediator. Though relatively inexpensive, mediation has several weaknesses. One partner may be more emotional or less well-advised than the other, resulting in an unequal division of assets. There is no assurance that both parties will be completely open with each other. And sometimes “couples are so focused on simply getting the agreement done that they create a contract they don’t feel content with as time goes on,” observed Lisa Herrick, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Falls Church, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., who often works with families struggling through separation and divorce.
September 2014 issue of Investment Advisor
Collaborative Divorce: A Win-Win Dissolution by Olivia Mellan and Sherry Christie
During a time of emotional upheaval and transition for everyone, it most certainly is in the best interest of the children to avoid an adversarial nature of a traditional litigated divorce. There is no disputing the fact that conflict has consequences that are far-reaching and scars are life-long. Everyone knows someone who has battled out their divorce and the consequences of their actions are not just sad, but catastrophic. The traditional method of litigation often intensifies negativity and makes coming to agreements more difficult, not to mention costly for both parties. A Collaborative Divorce process is based on the parties volunteering to exchange information and to pledge not to go to court, supported by a team of trained professionals assisting each party in making important family decisions and satisfactory agreements. Often when threats of litigation are removed (win-lose), the flow of communication becomes more conducive to resolution. It puts dignity in divorce, and is a respectful process. Most importantly, it puts the decision-making in the hands of the parties without having courts decide for them (win-win). Gillian Lowndes outlines below how Collaborative Divorce is in fact a “new way of thinking”, in her October 2014 article published in the magazine DestinyConnect.com.
In May 2014 I traveled to Sarasota, Florida where I attended an intensive Training Conference entitled Interdisciplinary Family Collaborative Practice Training for Attorneys, Mental Health Professionals, Financial Neutrals and Mediators, sponsored by Next Generation Divorce and Presented by Collaborative Law Training Associates, Inc. of Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve referred below to selected excerpts quoted from the comprehensive and well-articulated Training Material provided to all attendees. These selections are reprinted with expressed written permission by the author, one of the conference trainers, Nora Kalb Bushfield, MSW, JD a national trainer in Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice and President of the Collaborative Law Training Associates, Inc. Nora has over 25 years of experience in the area of family law including custody and divorce litigation, and began her specialization in collaborative practice in 2000 (www.collabtrainers.com)
What is Collaborative Family Practice?
Collaborative Family Practice offers clients and attorneys a way out of the combative, often warlike litigation model and engage the attorneys and their clients in a process that frees them to work toward resolving conflict using cooperative strategies rather than adversarial techniques and litigation. In this collaborative process, the parties and the attorneys enter into a formal agreement that under no circumstances will they go to court. In an Interdisciplinary case, the other experts (see below) also have a participation agreement setting out the extent of their services. Everyone agrees that they will settle the case utilizing alternative dispute resolution. In the event that settlement cannot be reached, or if one of the parties determines that the issues ‘must’ be litigated, the parties are bound by the agreement to retain new attorneys.
The process requires a phenomenal shift in thinking for the attorneys AND their clients. The new relationship that is formed is based on giving the client control of the process, voluntary and good faith exchange of relevant information and refraining from the threat of litigation.
Obviously the Collaborative Family Practice process is not for every case, or every professional. There will always be clients who believe that war is better than compromise. However, for the families in conflict and the professionals who serve them, the Collaborative Family Practice process offers a unique, effective, efficient, and soul–satisfying means of resolving highly charged conflicts.
What makes Collaborative Family Practice work?
The foundation and key is the premise that the collaborative lawyers will not engage in litigation, if retained collaboratively. This is the foundation of Collaborative Family Practice and is what makes a collaborative case work.
Interdisciplinary Team Model
A simplified overview where each of these require further definition and analysis, consists of a team of professionals with specific roles and codes of ethics to support and assess the needs of the family in the initial and on-going divorce process that include Family Law Attorneys, Divorce Coaches, Child Specialists, Mediators and Financial Consultants/Financial Neutrals. “A typical collaborative family law case consists of two clients who each select independent collaborative attorneys, working together as a unit with a single goal of resolving all of the issues”
It is no secret that the costs of a traditional court-litigated divorce are often preposterous, putting families who are already negotiating the division of assets and family holdings, in an even more financially burdensome position. While there are naturally costs in engaging a team of Collaborative Divorce professionals, the Collaborative law processes is the most cost efficient for the involved parties. As the necessary tasks in the collaborative model are assigned to specialist professionals without duplication of effort, the cost saving are realized. There are no amounts of money, however, that can account for the benefit of collaborative outcomes, engaged parties towards family solutions, and children who are put at the top of the priority list instead of the combative nature of the traditional alternative.
Please refer to the RESOURCES page of this website (currently under development) for the Collaborative Divorce team professionals in your geographical region to find the best professional support team to best support your family moving forward on your divorce journey.