I subscribe to an Internet “clip service,” in which I get an email every day listing articles in my areas of interest that have been posted on the Internet in the last 24 hours. Articles come from all across the U.S., and across the world. It’s a great way to stay up to date with the latest information, happenings, and discussions about the topic. Of course, one of my services updates me on collaborative practice articles.
Recently I’ve seen several links to an article from Crain’s Chicago Business, entitled “Collaborative law aims for a kinder divorce; how’s that working out?” This article, primarily negative in tone, discusses the process and offers quotes from collaborative and non-collaborative professionals about both the process in general and specific cases.
Interestingly, even though the article itself seems negative, most of the comments in the article about the collaborative process were positive. Of seven attorneys quoted in the article, five made positive comments; two made negative comments. (Predictably, the five attorneys with positive views were collaborative lawyers; the two attorneys with negative comments were litigators.) Of four clients quoted in the article, all four had positive experiences. Also interestingly, the article notes that “about 5% of the couples who start with collaborative law abandon it for a traditional approach at some point during the process.” In other words, the Collaborative Process has about a 95% success rate. I’d take those odds in Vegas, wouldn’t you?
So what do we make of this article? Is Collaborative Practice a good thing, or not? The answer, like the answers to most questions about the law, is “it depends.” It depends on the clients, on the attorneys, on the case. It depends on whether the clients can stomach sitting across the table from their soon-to-be-ex spouses. It depends on whether the attorneys really have shifted their perspective to be able to help their clients solve problems–or whether they’re just “smiling litigators” who still want to “win” for their clients. It depends on whether the clients are able to summon their best selves and work through one of the most difficult events in their lives, or whether they’d rather stay in the background while their lawyers do their dirty work.
In a recent post I made the statement that “there are no problems in a collaborative divorce that cannot be solved with hard work, good faith, creativity, and the willingness to work harder until we find a solution.” In hindsight that statement really isn’t correct. The one problem the team can’t solve is parties who are not committed to the process and are just going through the motions. I’ve seen teams successfully deal with attorneys who suddenly turned the case into a win/lose, with clients whose religious beliefs were so different that we feared one parent would never be able to have a successful relationship with the children, and with parties who had addiction issues. But in my experience if the clients are not deeply committed to the process, the case is destined to fail.
Of course I am going to support the process because I’ve seen how well it works. But I encourage you to look deeper when you hear comments–positive or negative–about collaborative practice. Your decision about whether to divorce should not be taken lightly. Nor should your decision about howto divorce. But if the collaborative process is right for you and your family, when somebody asks you “how’s that collaborative divorce working out?” You can tell them, “just fine, thanks.”