by Stann Givens, Givens Givens Sparks

Today, after decades of handling the “knock down, drag out” divorce cases where I actually did have a client murdered by her state trooper husband during the process, I heard about lawyers in other states handling divorces by the use of collaborative law.

Collaborative law is where the clients and lawyers agree from the beginning that the only goal is a fair resolution of all of the issues and agree that there will be no trial. The idea is that, if you can reach the agreement by this method, you will have saved lots of time, energy and money in the process. What seals the deal in the beginning is the agreement that if a deal cannot be reached, then both lawyers have to get off the case.

This allows each spouse to have confidence that the other spouse’s lawyer will really try to help reach a fair deal. There is no incentive for the lawyer to churn up litigation.

The concept has been amazingly successful. I have only been involved in one collaborative method divorce that was not successful and fifteen or so where the former couple has reached an amicable division of parenting responsibilities, assets and monthly support.

At first, I was impressed at how successfully both sides used the services of a jointly-hired forensic accountant to create a list of all of the assets and debts, value privately owned business assets and analyze the couple’s standard of living for alimony purposes. In previously contested cases, there had been occasions to use a neutral accountant for these purposes, but it has been even more successful with each party realizing that there is not going to be a contested trial.

There has been an even more dramatic change to the collaborative divorce process when the lawyers in my community began using mental health professionals as facilitators for the couples involved. These psychologists and mental health counselors have brought much more trust in the process. They direct each of the meetings, call timeouts when things begin to get “uncollaborative” and meet individually with each spouse periodically to make sure that both are still trusting of the process and prepared to work within it to reach their goals.

I have seen scenarios that in the past would have taken twice as long, been absolutely hostile the whole way and cost each party loads of money, turn into situations where time, money and energy have been saved. Not to mention the great intangible that the couple is much more likely to avoid harsh words with each other in front of the children both during the process and for the rest of their lives.

Bottom line: If you are a friend of mine heading for divorce, I am going to suggest that you explore trying to do it the collaborative way.