The Laker/Lutz News > Collaborative Divorce Provides Dignified End to Marriage

Posted on August 20, 2013


From B.C. Manion:

Is it really possible to have a civilized divorce?
The answer to that is – yes – if both parties are willing to agree at the outset that they and their attorneys will work as a team to settle, not litigate, their divorce, said attorney Stu Webb.
Webb, an attorney from Minneapolis, Minn., is the man who started the collaborative approach to divorce two decades ago.
Webb said he came up with the idea after litigating family law cases for about 20 years.
“The litigating system takes a lot out of everybody,” Webb said. Parents and children aren’t the only ones who get stressed out, he said. Judges and attorneys do, too.

It got to the point that Webb thought about quitting, but upon further reflection decided there must be a better way.
“On Jan. 1, 1990, I declared myself a collaborative lawyer,” Webb said. At the time, he was the only one.
So, he began recruiting other attorneys who would be willing to try a new approach that would change the role that lawyers played in divorce cases.
It turns out, Webb said, the collaborative approach appealed to other attorneys, too. “I wasn’t alone in having that feeling that “I can’t do this anymore.’ ”
With Webb’s model, instead of battling each other, attorneys and clients agree to work together as a team to reach a settlement.
Each attorney is there to represent the interests of his or her client, but from the outset everyone is committed to settling the case, said Ron Ousky, an attorney from Edina, Minn., who, along with Webb, co-authored “The Collaborative Way to Divorce: The Revolutionary Method that Results in Less Stress, Lower Costs, and Happier Kids.”
If the settlement falls apart for any reason, both clients must find different attorneys to represent them in divorce court, Ousky said.
Ousky said he began practicing collaborative law because he had become increasingly frustrated by the damage done during traditional divorce cases.
Collaborative divorce is more than just being nicer to each other while working out a settlement, Ousky said. “It’s about getting higher quality agreements that will last over the years.”
Collaborative divorce also is completely different than mediation, added Pauline Tesler, an attorney based in Mill Valley, Calif., who is perhaps the most experienced trainer in the field of collaborative law.
Mediation uses a neutral third party, while each party has an attorney in collaborative divorce.
With collaborative divorce, “your lawyer is by your side at the core of the negotiation,” Tesler said. “You’ve got two trained problem solvers in the room,” she said, referring to the attorneys. “You get a lot of creative brain power.”
While still largely unknown to many people, the use of collaborative divorce is gaining acceptance, said Talia Katz, executive director of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, based in Phoenix.
Her nonprofit organization began with about 50 members a decade ago. It now has 4,300 members from 24 countries. The group’s annual conference, which will be held this fall in Washington, D.C., is expected to draw 700 practitioners.
Wesley Chapel attorney Don McBath has embraced the approach as an avenue to achieve a fair resolution for all.
The approach represents a total departure from McBath’s old attitude, when he gloried in a win-at-all-costs approach to gaining custody of children for his clients.

“I was a monster. I was notorious. I was one of the nastiest divorce attorneys in Tampa Bay,” McBath said. “Looking back, I helped gained custody for people who really shouldn’t have gotten custody and I feel bad about it.”

Now, McBath’s focus is on helping divorcing couples to end their marriage in a way that is fair to both parties and prevents children being used as pawns.
“Divorce is an emotional issue, no matter how you cut it,” Katz said. “It is much than just a legal event,” Katz said.
Collaborative divorce, she said, is essentially a “commitment to problem solve.” It’s also a decision to avoid a court-ordered decision, she said. “It’s all about client self-determination.”

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