Written for & posted on the professional website Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay

“Collaborative Divorce is a relatively new approach.  The concept was first birthed in the early 1990s when lawyers finally realized that divorce is not a legal issue; it is a personal relationship issue that has legal attachments.  Prior to the 1990s, all divorce cases were generally handled the same way – each side was viewed as an adversary, the husband and wife would be represented by their own respective lawyers who would spend a large amount of time and money fighting over the house, cars, other assets, the children, future support payments, and sometimes even the family pet.  In the end, in most cases, there was generally only one winner – the lawyers.

In 1990, attorney Stuart Webb, after 15 years of practicing divorce law, decided to find a solution to all the aggravation and “battling” involved in settling divorce issues in court.  On February 14, 1990, Mr. Webb wrote a letter to Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Sandy Keith describing this new “collaborative” process.  In the letter he asks: Why not create an intentional settlement climate that encourages cooperation and creative alternatives?  He states:

“You and I have both experienced, I’m sure, those occasional times, occurring usually by accident, when in the course of attempting to negotiate a family law settlement, we find ourselves in a conference with the opposing counsel, and perhaps the respective clients, where the dynamics were such that in a climate of positive energy, creative alternatives were presented.  In that context, everyone contributed to a final settlement that satisfied all concerned – and everyone left the conference feeling high energy, good feelings and satisfaction.  More than likely, the possibility for change in the way the parties related to each other in the future may have greatly increased… Why not create this settlement climate deliberately?”

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Webb decided he would never again take his divorcing clients to court – he would help them settle and negotiate their problems outside the courtroom only.  He would create an environment where couples could get together and cooperatively work out their problems and, if the divorcing couple could not reach an agreement this way, he would withdraw from the engagement and hand the case over to another lawyer who would litigate it in court.

Other lawyers in Mr. Webb’s surrounding area became quite interested in his process and a group of them decided to follow his lead.  They prepared a contract that both spouses and both lawyers would sign that committed them all to negotiate in good faith, for each party to freely provide accurate information, and required the attorneys to withdraw from the case if it went to court.

The idea of working with the opposing attorney as a team to convince the couple not to go to court caught on with other attorneys. Soon, those in other states and regions started experimenting with what seemed to be a better way to resolve divorce issues.  In the city of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, it was reported that divorce cases in courts were reduced by 85%.  Other areas also began experiencing similar reductions in court divorce cases.

When lawyers in the San Francisco Bay Area began practicing collaborative law, psychologists and social workers joined the team as divorce coaches and child specialists. Financial consultants also jumped on board to assist couples with their financial affairs. In 1998, a small group of attorneys in Vancouver began meeting to further develop the collaborative divorce concept.  By the following year, they sponsored the first collaborative inter-disciplinary training and officially formed the Vancouver Collaborative Divorce Group.  Practice groups subsequently spread throughout North America and even into parts of Europe.

Today, collaborative divorce is widely known and practiced throughout the United States and Canada.  This fast-evolving alternative to traditional divorce has shown to be far less expensive and less time consuming and often creates a far superior win-win for the divorcing spouses than leaving it up to the court.”