An Attorney/Mediator Looks at Collaborative Divorce

Posted on January 9, 2011


The following discussion, written by Laurie Israel, Esq., takes a look at the advantages of a Collaborative Divorce process. (MR)

My collaborative cases are generally very satisfying. As I experience each collaborative
case, I think about the elements that make it so different from a conventional divorce
case. There is a sense that the participants (attorneys, clients, process coach, financial
neutral) are working together to solve a puzzle in the most creative way possible. The
puzzle is how to get our clients divorced in the most humane, functionally satisfying, and
financially sound way as possible. This is what attracts everyone to Collaborative
Practice (“CP”). In a sense, it is a “marriage” to the “divorce”.
Many potential clients may fear CP because they think that collaboration means
weakness. They think their attorney will not “go to bat” for them and get them what they
think or feel they deserve in the divorce. But advocacy for one’s client remains crucial in
collaborative practice. It is merely done in a different way.
Much education, listening, and evaluation occurs between the attorney and the client
before and after the CP four- or five-way meetings. The attorney may help the client
formulate his or her wishes for a reasonable outcome. The attorney will likely have
many discussions with the client that will assist the client evaluate options and determine
how they fit into a cohesive plan for divorce. In addition, the attorney will educate the
client on the “rules of divorce” in the jurisdiction and how the client’s plan fits in with
those rules.
During the group meetings, an attorney generally will back off from vocally pressing the
client’s wishes and thoughts. The meetings are used for focused but open-ended
discussions between the parties with assists from the professionals. There is a culture
of “truth saying” in CP that is tremendously helpful in solving problems in a respectful
way. This is the diametric opposite of conventional divorces, where the truth is
withheld, and parties function totally from positions completely voiced by their lawyers.
One other important feature of a successful CP is the respect shown by an attorney to
“Counterpart Counsel” (the other client’s counsel) and to the other spouse. As the
process unwinds, one finds that both spouses are worthy of respect. They each have
things to say which are extremely important to solving the puzzle of their divorce.
Listening openly and respectfully to the “other side” is what I refer to as neutrality in CP.
It is the grease that makes CP so successful.