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California: Avoid the Rough Waters of Divorce: Plan and Control Through Collaborative Law
(provided by B. Daniel Lynch, Mediator)


Divorce's rough waters to endure
go in one boat, with motives pure
--Anonymous

How is a divorce like a journey through rough waters? Imagine that you and your spouse are about to undertake such a journey and are faced with deciding between two methods of travel.

In the competitive method, each will be in a separate boat, trying to sink the other boat. The fighting will be costly, and will slow the journey.

In the collaborative method, both will be in one boat, mutually deciding the steps to take in the journey with the help of a professional crew. At the outset, the spouses and the crew all agree in writing to make a continuing good faith effort to work together to find mutually acceptable solutions. If at any time, anyone breaks the agreement, you and your spouse must go back to the beginning and hire new boats and crews and use the competitive approach. This gives everyone a strong incentive to cooperate. So, there is no fighting, and the journey is smoother, faster, and cheaper.

In a divorce, the competitive method is by litigation in court. Each spouse has a litigation attorney who spends a lot of time fighting with the other attorney and getting ready for a trial. Just before the time for the trial, in almost all cases, the two sides, "settle on the courthouse steps". Along the way, there has been little or no planning for the future, and no attempt to determine the real issues dividing and, potentially, uniting the spouses. The time and money spent fighting and preparing for the trial-that-didn't-happen has been wasted. Naturally, the last minute "settlement" often proves to be unworkable. Also, after all the legal squabbling, the spouses are likely to be more antagonistic toward each other than they were at the start of the divorce.

In a divorce that uses the collaborative method, the spouses and their lawyers do not fight. Instead they are "in the same boat," "pulling together" to reach workable solutions for the benefit of all. The two attorneys meet privately with their respective clients before and after four-way client-attorney meetings, so that each spouse has the benefit of legal counsel, but all are working together, marshaling the expertise and talents of their two lawyers to achieve common goals. The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (http://www.collaborativepractice.com/) describes collaborative divorce as supportive, considerate, sensible, constructive, mutual, and client-centered. The approach is based on three principles:
A pledge not to go to court
An honest exchange of information by both spouses
A solution that takes into account the highest priorities of both spouses and their children
The courts may be a good place to go to resolve disputes between strangers where nothing is at stake but money. However, in a divorce, with its involvement of long-term relationships, concerns for family privacy, and important life changes, collaborative divorce is a better alternative.

Information provided by:
B. Daniel Lynch, Mediator

Recommended Resources:
California Divorce Source
California Divorce Laws
California Community Forum
California Divorce Resources

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