The Collaborative Process at a glance:
- Encourages mutual respect
- Emphasizes needs of children
- Avoids going to court
- Keeps control of the process with the individuals
- Provides for open communication
- Utilizes a problem-solving approach
- Identifies and addresses interests and concerns of all
- Prepares individuals for new lives
- Collaborative Practice. It begins with something you both can agree on: self-respect.
The end of a marriage or relationship can be tragic enough. Often, the process of divorcing only adds to the pain. You and your spouse may come to see each other as adversaries and the divorce as a battleground. You may experience feelings of confusion, anger, loss and conflict. Under such circumstances, you might find it difficult to see an end to divorce, much less imagine a hopeful future afterwards.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. A growing number of parting couples, along with other professionals such as lawyers, divorce coaches and financial consultants, have been seeking a more constructive alternative. These professionals have developed the Collaborative Practice model.
Choosing to take the steps towards a collaborative approach to divorce can preserve family, be less costly and quicker, improve communication, be a healing experience, develop skills for the future, and provide an outcome controlled by the couple.
During individual meetings with your attorney, you will gain knowledge of what to expect from them as well as the meetings that will take place between you, your spouse, and each of your lawyers. Ground rules and the agenda will be explained to you in simple terms. Financial information including assets, income, and expenses will need to be gathered and a neutral financial professional is often used to facilitate this, as well as develop financial scenarios for settlement. Lastly, you and your attorney will assess the needs of children and consider personal interests and goals.
How it started: a Minnesota Idea that spread throughout the world
Collaborative Practice is a home-grown concept; it originated by Stu Webb, a local Minnesota attorney and a tenant of Collaborative Alliance, Inc. The following is Stu’s description of how this amazing revolution was started:
“In 1989, I had been a divorce lawyer for about 18 years—and was getting pretty sick of it. I saw what adversarial court battles were doing to my clients and I knew it was having a negative effect on me too. But litigation (going to court) was the way divorces were handled (and still is, for the most part).
In traditional litigation, two lawyers (or teams of lawyers) hash out the divorce in court. The actual parties to the divorce—the husband and wife—have almost no direct contact with each other, and what little they have is usually bitter and unproductive. Tension, fear, anger, and recrimination prevail. The traditional process makes it almost impossible for the parties to have anything remotely resembling a healthy relationship after the divorce, even when there are children involved.
I felt I was living in a siege mentally—waiting for the next battle to start—and I was ready to quit the practice of law. I enrolled in a college and was ready to start educating myself for a new career, when I had a thought: “If I’m actually willing to quit being a lawyer, why don’t I at least see whether there’s some out-of-the-box way I can look at things. Maybe there’s a better way of handling divorce.”
So I began experimenting with different ways to approach family law practice. In late 1989, I was involved in one of the worst litigation cases in my career, a real showcase of everything that’s wrong with litigation; lying, nasty tricks, hiding assets, endless court hearings, etc. That case by itself could have been enough to get me to retire. But in the midst of one of those awful hearings, it occurred to me that there should be settlement-only specialists available for divorcing couples, specialists who work with the couple outside the court system, and who would turn the case over to trial lawyers if the settlement process failed. That, in a nutshell, was the start of Collaborative Law.
On January 1, 1990, I declared myself a Collaborative lawyer—the first, and only—one. I knew, though, that Collaborative Law could never succeed if I were the only one doing it. So I mentioned the concept to some other local divorce lawyers, and by the end of 1990 there were nine of us.”
teaming with other professionals
Family law disputes do not involve legal issues alone. In fact, the emotional, financial and child development issues can often be more complex and more critical than the legal issues involved. Clients are generally best served when all of these needs are addressed by professionals in these fields. As a result, Collaborative Practice has evolved into a “team concept” in which attorneys, financial professionals and mental health professionals often work together to help their clients achieve the best possible outcome for their situation.
Collaborative Team Members
Legal Counsel: Though Collaborative Practice seeks to avoid going to court, the settlement is still a legal agreement. Therefore, it is essential that a lawyer be involved to advise you on all matters of law, from child custody and support to maintenance agreements to financial settlements and property distribution. Collaborative lawyers have made a commitment to the unique practice of the collaborative model.
Divorce Coach: A divorce coach helps you manage the pain and strain of changing relationships, while focusing on goals for the present and the future. Working with you to make the most of your strengths, your divorce coach assists you in being at your best during the divorce process, then taking positive steps to a new life.
Financial Professional: The divorce settlement will in part determine your financial well-being for many years to come. It is critical that it is soundly structured, especially if your spouse assumed more responsibility for your family’s finances. The guidance of a financial professional will help protect your interests. Reviewing all assets and incomes, the financial professional will assist you in developing viable financial options for your future. Evaluating the choices, you and your lawyer can then construct a comprehensive plan for the next stage of your life.
Child Specialist: A goal of Collaborative Practice is to assure that children are a priority, not a casualty. The child specialist, an individual skilled in understanding children, will meet with your children privately, assisting them in expressing their feelings and concerns about the divorce. Encouraging children to think creatively about the future, the child specialist then communicates their feelings, concerns, and hopes to the team to consider when planning for the children’s lives.
In some areas of North America, all Collaborative cases involve a full team of professionals, including two attorneys, a financial specialist, a child specialist (if there are children) and two coaches, (one for each party.) In other areas, including Minnesota, the team is assembled on an as-needed basis. Each member of the team is brought in when the situation arises.
Assembling a Collaborative Team
While we may strongly encourage our clients to use other Collaborative Professionals whose core competencies are better suited to handle certain aspects of the divorce transition, the decision rests with the clients as to whom they wish to invite to participate as a member of their individual divorce transition team. For example, when we recognize that our clients are spending a great deal of attorney time dealing with issues that are purely emotional, we may strongly suggest that they consider the use of a divorce coach, who will help them reduce the fees incurred in walking through the divorce transition by helping the client use the right tools at the right times. While intuitively many people think the use of a financial neutral may be an extra expense only the rich can afford, we urge our clients to consider using Collaborative Financial Neutrals to help reduce fees by using the professionals who are trained to help them find creative solutions to the financial issues that lawyers are not trained to find. Similarly, we encourage our clients who have children to use a child specialist who can help them understand the developmental issues of the children so that they can customize a parenting plan that will take into account the needs of the children as well as the desires of the parents.
Collaborative Practice in our community is supported and promoted by our statewide group, the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota and by our international group, the International Association of Collaborative Professionals (IACP).
The Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota is a non-profit organization formed by the earliest pioneers in the Collaborative Practice movement. Its mission is to attract, support and train members to advance the practice and values of the Collaborative Practice movement. The membership includes attorneys, mediators, mental health professionals, child psychologists, and financial professionals who are available to serve families in the areas in which they need the most help.
The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals is an international organization whose mission is to transform how conflict is resolved worldwide through Collaborative Practice. It serves its members, influences the collaborative community and benefits the public through its public education and outreach efforts. It is committed to fostering professional excellence in conflict resolution through Collaborative Practice. We do this by protecting the essentials of Collaborative Practice, expanding Collaborative Practice worldwide, and providing a central resource for education, networking and standards of practice.
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