The New York Times > Amiable Unhitching, With A Prod

Posted on July 29, 2013

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From Jane Gross:

In some ways, the method resembles mediation in its problem-solving approach. But rather than a neutral mediator, each party brings a lawyer to the sessions, as advocate and adviser. But the very format changes how lawyers behave.

”We are by nature competitive,” said Barry Berkman, who organized the first group of collaborative divorce lawyers in New York City and Westchester County after learning about the process at a California symposium. ”Otherwise we’d be botanists.”

Most matrimonial lawyers measure success by who won, and for how much. ”This is different,” he said. ”Success is a resolution that works for both parties.”

The cornerstone of the process — and its most controversial element — is that the two lawyers sign a pledge to withdraw from the case if either of their clients decides to go to court. This gives the lawyers an economic incentive to leave adversarial habits behind. It also encourages clients to stay at the bargaining table, since bolting means starting over with new counsel.

Collaborative divorce also requires a full disclosure of assets and respectful behavior at all negotiating sessions. Yelling, table-pounding, threatening and stalling are against the rules.

The settlement is shaped by figuring out what works for the couple. One husband split an inheritance with his wife to break a logjam, although he was not required to by law. One wife gave ground on weightier items because her husband agreed to continue changing the screens and storm windows every year.

Read more at The New York Times.

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