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Practice Management > Building Your Business

The 13 Anchors of Collaborative Divorce

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In the United States, divorce currently terminates one out of two first marriages, two out of three second marriages and nearly three out of four third marriages. At any given time, there’s a good chance at least one couple among your clients is contemplating or already moving toward divorce. That often leads to a financial disadvantage or even disaster for one or both parties, undoing your good work for the couple.

Fortunately for many unhappy clients, a more harmonious option has become increasingly popular around the country. It’s based on collaborative practice, a process that has been applied to settle grudges between street gangs, wrangling between businesses and even disputes between nations. Productive rather than destructive, it’s also used to resolve probate matters, business matters, malpractice cases, employment issues and environmental matters, too.

As a means of reaching agreement between a divorcing couple, collaborative practice “provides you and your spouse or partner with the support and guidance of your own lawyers without going to court,” according to the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). By allowing both spouses to draw on the expertise of financial, mental health and child specialists who work with them and their attorneys as a team, it serves as a non-adversarial mechanism for dealing with differences and disputes.

Maryland is ahead of most other states in having fostered collaborative practice for at least 10 years. Suzy Eckstein, a family law attorney in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and a practitioner of collaborative divorce since 2004, strongly believes that more financial advisors should be prepared to acquaint clients with this option. “Very often, a divorcing client comes to an advisor and asks for help and guidance around this overwhelming process,” she said. “It’s really important that they have an understanding of and information about their choices in the divorce process. And [collaborative divorce] has the potential to create more durable agreements that serve everyone and avoid repeated litigation.”

Before undertaking collaborative divorce, spouses must agree to these “13 anchors” of the process:

  1. We will sign a collaborative participation agreement not to go to court.

  2. This client-driven process seeks creative outcomes, not just legal solutions.

  3. We will keep the process private and confidential.

  4. Our team of professionals will facilitate the process, not make decisions for us.

  5. All team members will work together constructively.

  6. Knowing that all decisions will be made with both parties in mind, we are willing to compromise.

  7. We will participate in all meetings and complete requested homework.

  8. The process will be transparent.

  9. We will fully disclose all important information.

  10. We will not keep secrets.

  11. We will not take advantage of mistakes.

  12. We will not take unilateral actions.

  13. If we give up on this collaborative process, none of the team members may continue to help us in litigation.


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