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About Collaborative Practice

Divorce may be inevitable, but the way you divorce isn't.

Going through a divorce doesn't automatically mean having to endure the turmoil that is often associated with it. You now have another choice: Collaborative Practice, which includes the Collaborative Law and Collaborative Divorce models. Developed as an alternative to “divorce as usual”, Collaborative Practice offers couples a humane and solutions-based approach to ending a relationship. Collaborative Practice differs from conventional divorce in three important respects:

  • The parties pledge in writing not to go to court.
  • Face-to-face discussions between the spouses and their lawyers lead to an agreement.
  • A respectful, problem-solving approach, often with the assistance of trained financial experts, child specialists and divorce coaches, replaces the often adversarial process of conventional divorce.

What is Collaborative Practice?

Collaborative Practice (also known as "Collaborative Divorce") is a new way for a divorcing couple to work as a team with trained professionals to resolve disputes respectfully, without going to court. The term encompasses all of the models that have been developed since Minnesota lawyer Stu Webb created the Collaborative Law model in the 1980s. This model is at the heart of all of Collaborative Practice. Each client has the support, protection and guidance of his or her own lawyer. The lawyers and the clients together comprise the Collaborative Law component of Collaborative Practice.

While Collaborative lawyers are always a part of Collaboration, some models provide child specialists, financial specialists and divorce coaches as part of the clients' divorce team. In these models the clients have the option of starting their divorce with the professional with whom they feel most comfortable. Then the clients choose the other professionals they need. Therefore, the clients benefit throughout collaboration from the assistance and support of all of their chosen professionals.

Although Collaborative Practice comes in several models, it is distinguished from traditional litigation by its inviolable core elements. These elements are set out in a contractual commitment among the clients and their chosen collaborative professionals to:

  • negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement without using court to decide any issues for the clients
  • withdrawal of the professionals if either client goes to court
  • engage in open communication and information sharing, and
  • create shared solutions that take into account the highest priorities of both clients.

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Is Collaborative Practice right for you?

Divorce is a highly personal matter, and no one approach is right for everyone. Many couples, however, have found that Collaborative Practice (Collaborative Law/Collaborative Divorce) is a welcome alternative to the potentially destructive aspects of conventional divorce. To determine if Collaborative Practice is right for you, ask yourself if these values are important:

  • Maintaining an atmosphere of respect, even in the presence of disagreements.
  • When the parties have children, prioritizing their needs.
  • Listening objectively to your spouse's needs, fully expecting that your own needs will be given equal consideration.
  • Working creatively and cooperatively to solve issues.
  • Seeing beyond the frustration and pain of the present moment to plan for the future.
  • Behaving in an ethical manner toward your spouse.
  • Keeping control of the divorce process with you and your spouse, and not relegating it to the court system.

If you can affirm these basic principles, it is likely that Collaborative Practice would be a viable option for you. Talk to a Collaborative professional for a more in-depth determination based on your individual situation.

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The advantages of using Collaborative Practice

Designed as an alternative to conventional divorce, Collaborative Practice (Collaborative Law and Collaborative Divorce) offers many distinct advantages:

  • You keep control of the process yourselves, without going to court.
  • Children's needs are given priority.
  • You and your partner commit to reaching agreement through a problem-solving approach.
  • An atmosphere of respect preserves self esteem.
  • Open communication allows both of you to express your needs for moving forward and gives you new tools for effective problem-solving in the future.
  • There is full disclosure of facts and information.
  • Face-to-face meetings in the presence of lawyers make negotiations direct and efficient and allow for mutually created resolutions.
  • The Collaborative process helps both of you plan for your own future and that of your children, and to begin new lives for all of you.

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The Collaborative Practice Philosophy

Something everyone should agree on: respect.

It is simply a fact that about half of all marriages end in divorce, and countless non-marital relationships fail, too. But the emotional devastation that often accompanies the loss of a relationship doesn't have to be a fact as well. That is the thinking behind Collaborative Practice.

Long-sought by divorcing individuals and other concerned professionals who assist them, Collaborative Practice is the alternative to “divorce as usual”. It is designed to minimize the hurt, the loss of self esteem, the anger and alienation that occur too frequently with divorce.

The Collaborative philosophy is built on a belief in human dignity and respect. Individuals may cease being partners, but they don't cease being worthy human beings. Every part of Collaborative Practice—from open communications to solutions-based negotiation to out-of-court settlement—is intended to foster respect. When respect is given and received, self esteem is likely to be preserved, making discussions more productive and an agreement more easily reached.

The end of a marriage or relationship is tragic enough. Collaborative Practice believes that the process of divorcing shouldn't add to the pain, but rather help the spouses and children foresee a hopeful future.

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How Collaborative Practice works

Once you have chosen Collaborative Practice (Collaborative Law/Collaborative Divorce), you may take advantage of the option to put together a team to work with you as you make your way through this life transition. While you will always need to select Collaborative lawyers to assist you throughout the process, you may also choose to start the process with a Collaborative divorce coach or financial expert. Wherever you begin the process, you will have a chance to meet privately and together with your professionals. Collaborative Practice is unique in that it calls for both of you, and your lawyers, to come together for face-to-face discussions and negotiations—outside the courtroom. In an atmosphere of openness and honesty, all assets are disclosed, needs are communicated, and solutions are explored. When there are children, their interests are given foremost priority.

The end result of Collaborative Practice is a divorce agreement that has been achieved through mutual problem solving. You, along with your lawyers and other chosen collaborative professionals, take control of shaping the final agreement, rather than having a settlement imposed on you by the court.

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How to choose a collaborative lawyer

Each client is free to choose his or her own attorney. Lawyers who are qualified members of Collaborative Practice groups have committed to ongoing training and standards. These professionals are the most likely to follow a model for collaborative representation shared by me, and to have made the effort to become trained as effective collaborative lawyers.

Research has shown that one of the best predictors of a good divorce process and outcome is the selection by divorcing spouses of two attorneys who respect one another and have a good track record of settling cases together. Anyone selecting collaborative counsel should investigate and choose carefully. Find out:

  • Whether the lawyer specializes in family law, and how long he or she has practiced.
  • What training the lawyer has received in Collaborative Practice/Divorce and in mediation.
  • How long the lawyer has been practicing Collaborative Practice/Divorce.
  • Whether the lawyer has done a substantial number of collaborative cases.
  • Whether the lawyer has done any writing on the subject of Collaborative Practice/Divorce.
  • Whether the lawyer has worked collaboratively with your spouse's lawyer before, and if so, how successfully.

There are many capable collaborative lawyers in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find more information about each of these lawyers on the local Collaborative Practice group websites or at the website of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, www.collaborativepractice.com.

You and your spouse or partner have wide choices available to you for representation. I am willing to work collaboratively with any lawyer your partner or spouse selects who has sufficient training, experience, and commitment to be able to do this challenging new mode of dispute resolution skillfully. However, more than a decade of experience tells us that we can do our best work as collaborative lawyers when both parties choose collaborative lawyers who trust one another and have a track record of working together effectively to help clients reach creative, respectful solutions.

Interview several collaborative lawyers and choose the one you have most confidence in. Because collaborative cases do not go to court, you need not limit yourself to lawyers in your own county. Seek out the best.

(This section on choosing a collaborative lawyer is excerpted from text by Pauline Tesler )

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Choosing other Collaborative Professionals

You may have found the Collaborative Practice model by first interviewing a mental health professional or a financial professional, in which case the formation of your team has already started. If you are putting together your team with your lawyers’ help, much of what is said above about collaborative lawyers is also true of the other members of your team. While your lawyers are likely to guide you in this direction anyway, be sure that your team members are qualified members of a collaborative practice group, and that each of them is experienced, trained, and committed to the model.

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Bay Area Collaborative Practice Groups

  1. Collaborative Council of the Redwood Empire (CCRE) www.collaborativecouncil.org
  2. Collaborative Practice Center (CPC) Santa Rosa www.collaborativepracticecenter.com
  3. Collaborative Practice East Bay (CPEB) www.cpeastbay.org
  4. Collaborative Family Law Professionals of Marin www.collaborativepracticemarin.com
  5. Collaborative Lawyers of Alameda and Contra Costa (CLACC) www.CLACC.org
  6. Collaborative Practice San Francisco (CPSF) www.collaborativepracticesanfrancisco.com
  7. Collaborative Practice of San Mateo County www.collaborative-law.com
  8. Collaborative Practice Silicon Valley www.cpsv.us
  9. Sacramento Collaborative Practice Group www.divorceoption.com

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