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What is Collaborative Practice?

Donn Saylor
Donn Saylor

Collaborative practice is a method of resolving disputes — usually divorce proceedings — without going to court. The dynamics of collaborative law practice allow individuals on either side of an issue to work together under the guidance and protection of trained lawyers in order to achieve a resolution. When couples enter into the collaborative divorce process, they are also typically given access to other means of professional conflict resolution, such as divorce coaches, financial advisers, and child and family specialists.

This modality of collaborative family law was constructed in 1990 by Minnesota attorney Stu Webb. After working with divorcing couples for a number of years, Webb had witnessed firsthand the negative effects of lengthy court processes and more long-established types of divorce litigation. His unique method of collaboration offered a welcome alternative to couples seeking a more peaceable resolution. Since Webb first began his collaborative practice, it has spread in popularity and is employed by lawyers around the world.

Woman posing
Woman posing

In most collaborative practice cases, both parties sign a contract that outlines the goals of the collaboration. First and foremost, a couple makes a commitment to one another to reach a mutually satisfying settlement, avoiding the necessity of going to court and having a judge deliberate on the details of the case. The couple also commits to working together to identify priorities, pinpoint problem areas, and provide solutions. Finally, both parties agree to an open dialogue and the free sharing of pertinent information.

A collaborative practice case takes place over a series of meetings, or joint sessions, between the couple, their attorneys, and any other professionals who have an interest in the agreeable dissolution of the marriage. The person on either side of the case is encouraged to make his or her own decisions about the course of the proceedings and the shape of the final settlement. The lawyers involved do not litigate, they serve as advisers. If no amenable resolution can be reached, the couple may then proceed to bring the case before a judge. If this happens, however, the original lawyers are required to withdraw their services and new attorneys must be brought on board.

The vast majority of divorces through collaborative practice are successful. The entire process is considerably less lengthy and less expensive than formal court proceedings. More importantly, though, the collaborative effort is typically less painful and less damaging to the family unit, inspiring a continued feeling of cohesion and cooperation that can continue long after the divorce is finalized.

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