When Couples Collaborate

Collaborative law is an option for divorcing couples who want to consider a non-adversarial process for their divorce.  It requires that both parties have attorneys who have been formally trained in the “collaborative model” and that each collaborative attorney signs an agreement with their client to resolve their divorce without court involvement.  The agreement indicates that the attorney will represent the client without litigation and if the client chooses to terminate the collaborative law process, he or she and their spouse will need to engage other counsel.  Both parties to the collaborative divorce also sign an agreement with the same terms.

Three people who used collaborative law for their divorces agreed to talk about the process.  To protect their privacy, their names have been changed.

‘Buy-In From Both Sides’
“Ann Sawyer,” a working mother with two small children indicated that, “For us, collaborative law was a way to move forward with the divorce knowing that there was a buy-in from both sides, that we were committed to our kids, and that personal animosity would be on the back burner.  I had a big fear that someone who did not know us or our family would be making the decisions for our kids.  That was a risk that I did not even want to consider.”

Ann said she had a vested interest in having a fair and equal agreement, as making the father of her children miserable would not do anyone any good. Now that she and her ex-husband are a year past their divorce, Ann says that they still honor the agreement they made to promote the common good to move the family forward. Ann appreciated the attorneys’ roles, indicating that she liked having someone looking over their shoulders and giving them ideas about how to avoid the pitfalls and manage the risks.

Putting Kids First
When asked whether she would recommend collaborative law to others, Ann indicated, “Absolutely, but it has to be very important to you to be the better person and put the kids first.”  “Mike” Sawyer agreed with his former wife that they both really wanted a process that was better for the kids. He said they chose collaborative law because they believed they would be better served with each of them having a legal advocate rather than a neutral mediator.

“Donna Abbott”, another professional working mother whose collaborative divorce ended over a year ago, described their co-parenting, “We get along great and the kids are doing well!” Donna said that she thinks that divorce is horrible and difficult but collaborative law tries to approach the conflict in as peaceful a way as possible.  She liked that the process is focused on making sure the children were winning and not on spouses beating each other.  Donna also thought that the pace that can be set with collaborative law is helpful.  “You can take as much time as you need.  When you file with the court, their deadlines add stress.”  Donna and her husband used a joint child specialist / divorce coach.

The Easier Way
When asked about the costs of the collaborative process, Donna said “The expense was a lot but the people I know who did not use collaborative law spent double.”  The Abbotts used one neutral financial expert who helped them through the stress of dividing assets.

Donna has recommended the collaborative process to friends explaining that divorce is one of the hardest things to do but if there is an easier way, collaboration is it.  Donna explains that many people have asked them how they learned to co-parent so well and tell them they are role models.  She says they she thinks their collaborative co-parenting is not only the result of the process they used but also because they were committed to putting their children’s needs ahead of their own.

Author: Terri Harrington, Attorney from Denver Colorado. 2008