Collaborative Divorce – What Is It And Will It Work For Me?

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“A Peaceful Divorce lawyer”—that’s what I say when I’m asked what kind of work I do.

Almost always the response is:  Really?  Is that possible?

“It is,”   I explain:  Two people fell in love, got married, perhaps made babies together. They didn’t always see each other as they do right now–as hostile combatants.

Bad things have happened to change their views of each other.

Just as the relationship morphed over time from the best to the worst, it’s possible for the couple to part ways without getting stuck in the current moment of hate and fear.

Anger almost always comes from fear –our primal “fight or flight” response.

One choice is to get stuck in that anger and fear forever.

A better choices is a divorce that creates yet more change, to acceptance of forgiveness and growth in divorce, so both spouses can go on to lead healthier and more fulfilling lives.

Even though over 95% of all couples ultimately come to agreement about the terms of their divorce, many people still think that the best way to get divorced is to hire lawyers and have those lawyers go to war.

Often, in my initial phone call or meeting, a client will ask:  Will you fight for me?

My answer is: no I won’t fight for you.  What I will do is advocate and work with you to accomplish a divorce that honors your goals and best interests, and protects your family.

How do we do that?

The Collaborative Divorce Process creates a frame in which you and your spouse can work privately, peacefully and respectfully to a solution tailor made for your family.

In Collaborative Divorce the spouses and their lawyers start off with a pledge to maintain the privacy of the family and stay out of court.

In the adversarial model—as soon as one spouse files a pleading (a document filed in court) the divorce is public. Court records are public and anyone can access the private financial and personal information filed in court.

To the contrary, in Collaborative Divorce the lawyers work together to preserve the family’s privacy.

Collaborative Lawyers are not just lawyers who say they are going to work cooperatively with the other spouse.  Collaborative lawyers have invested in advanced training in conflict resolution and creative problem solving.  They study interest based negotiation—which turns a win-lose mindset: “the more she gets the less I keep” into “we’re in this together, how do we both come away from our divorce in the best possible place.”

One story that explains interest-based option building is about a Father, two children and an orange.  The children are fighting over a single orange, each one wants it. The Father, tired of hearing his children argue, takes the orange, cuts it in half and gives a half to each child. Rather than settling the argument, each child walks away angry.  What can be more fair than giving one-half to each child?  If the Father had stopped to be curious and listen, he would have first learned that one child wanted the juice of the orange to drink and the other child wanted the skin of the orange to make candied orange peel.  Both children could have had their desires fully satisfied with a little creative problem solving. This story of the orange is a simple illustrative of how interest based negotiation can result in greater satisfaction than merely cutting each item in two.

It may work for a family for one spouse to keep the home, or a business, and the other to keep more of other assets.  Judges have little time for creative problem solving. In one district in Central Florida each judge has over 5,000 cases on his or her docket.  Contested cases often take two years or more to work their way through the system, at enormous cost in attorneys fees, worsening of hard feelings, and lost opportunities.  Spouse focused backwards on what went wrong with their marriage postpone healing and getting on with life.

In Collaborative Divorce there is no judge, there is a Collaborative Lawyer for each spouse, a neutral financial professional and a neutral process facilitator.  The neutral financial professional collects and analysis all of the financial data necessary to make educated and informed decisions.  One spouse may have more financial information.  The financial neutral efficiently collects all the information shares it, and takes time to educate each spouse in all the financial details.

Having all the financial information collected by one financial neutral is more efficient and cost effective than the traditional adversarial model, in which each lawyer works with each client to collect the information that each has, and then they exchange.  This system duplicates the effort and expense. Where there are more complex financial issues, such as valuing real estate or a business, in the traditional litigation model two experts may be hired  The Neutral Financial Professional streamlines the gathering and understanding of all the financial data.

A Neutral Process Facilitator with advanced training in psychology, social work or counseling is also part of the Collaborative team.  Until the initial fear and anger of divorce are processed, no one can make good decisions.  The Process Facilitator helps spouses focus on making good, long term decisions for themselves and their children.  W.  Children thrive when they experience their parents working together to re-imagine life after they no longer live together.

The litigation “fight” model only lengthens the time the spouses remain stuck and incapable of making good decisions.

Sounds expensive, with all these professionals on the Collaborative team.  Our data shows that Collaborative divorce is less expensive than litigated “divorce war.”  Our collaborative communities have created flexible Collaborative models to accommodate diverse families—free “pro-bono” models for families with little or very limited income and “modest means” Collaborative divorce where professionals work at substantially reduced fees to make Collaborative process divorce more widely available.

How to get started?

Find the professional Collaborative Divorce community in your area. The Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals has more than 15 member groups around the state.  You can find the one closest to you right here.

The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals has member groups throughout the United States and around the world:

Or contact me at:

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