History of Collaborative Divorce

The Collaborative Process for Divorce (also known as collaborative law, collaborative divorce, collaborative practice and collaborative process) began its evolution some twenty years ago. This conflict resolution process was adopted by family law attorneys and mental health professionals who were discouraged by damage done to families going through divorce in the traditional adversarial process. Everyone knows someone who experienced a devastating divorce.

In the late 1980s, Stu Webb, a family law attorney in Minneapolis, Minnesota became interested in finding an alternative process. For more than twenty years prior, Mr. Webb assisted clients through divorce within the adversarial legal process. He decided to make a personal commitment not to go to court. He worked with other family law attorneys as problem-solvers for settlement-only divorces. He founded a model where lawyers would not, under any circumstances, go to court over any issue. This approach requires creative problem solving. From his ideas, Collaborative Law was born. In 1990, Mr. Webb represented his clients in participatory negotiations aimed at creative settlements without court. If he could not reach settlement, Mr. Webb referred his clients to litigation attorneys and withdrew from the matter.

Minneapolis attorneys presenting this idea at a national convention led to the spread of the Collaborative Process in California in 1993. Lawyers from northern California learned of this new process and by early 1994 began practicing Collaborative Law.

Interestingly enough, the interdisciplinary approach to divorce resolution was developing on a parallel track. In 1992, California family psychologist, Dr. Peggy Thompson, along with a group of lawyers and financial professionals were designing a model to work with divorcing couples in a supportive and constructive way. In 1993, a clinical social worker in California began to meet and work with a group of Santa Clara County lawyers to create a partnership between mental health professionals and collaborative attorneys. Dr. Peggy Thompson and her group was introduced to Collaborative Law through attorney Pauline Tesler and immediately found the concept to be an ideal fit for the model Dr. Thompson and her colleagues were developing. A short time later, the interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice concept was formulated.

Many other attorneys were recognizing that court intervention often does more damage to families during divorce and because the court system is not an effective means for helping couples going through divorce. Thus, this new collaborative model for divorce was rapidly spreading to other parts of the U.S. and Canada.

With the idea of developing a networking organization, a newsletter and giving credibility to the international movement, an umbrella organization was formed in 2000, and in 2001, it was named the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals ("IACP"). In 2009, this international organization, the IACP, celebrated its 10th Anniversary at the Annual Forum in Minneapolis, Minnesota with 600 attendees from around the world. Today, the IACP has over 4,000 members in 24 different countries.

In 2004, a Michigan organization was founded and named the Collaborative Practice Institute of Michigan ("CPIM"). There are now hundreds of trained Collaborative Professionals throughout the state of Michigan, and CPIM sponsors and hosts an annual interdisciplinary training in spring and an interdisciplinary advanced training almost every fall.

While the specific approach may differ slightly from region to region, the essential feature of Collaborative Practice is the Participation Agreement requiring the withdrawal of the Collaborative professionals if the case goes to court. This agreement serves as the foundation and safety net around the couple allowing the multi-disciplinary team to help the couple through the emotional, financial, and legal challenges of divorce. Parties act respectfully in a dignified manner maintaining control over the process and outcome while learning communication skills, creative problem-solving techniques, and effective negotiation. The Collaborative Process allows the couple to make their own important financial decisions for each of them and for their children. The Process safeguards their privacy and preserves a healthy parental relationship. Emphasis is on the needs and interests of the clients as well as future success.

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For important life transitions such as divorce and future parenting issues, Attorney Danielle Smith believes the Collaborative Process can bring about the most effective, satisfying and enduring results for clients by helping them to appropriately resolve conflicts and preserve important relationships, not only with the restructuring of the nuclear family, but with other relatives and friends. At Michigan Divorce Options, we encourage and nurture a close relationship with our clients by providing honest communication, information on all available alternatives and the consideration of the future rather than enflaming the inherent turmoil and pain of divorce. Contact us today to discuss these options.

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