Most people have their hearts in the right place when they contemplate on separating or divorcing. They want a more amicable and cooperative process. However, a very small percentage chooses collaborative law, and even a smaller number is lucky to have the spouse agreeable to the collaborative process. Every collaborative attorneys would agree that collaborative cases are extremely fragile. We live in a highly litigious world, with a strong gravitation pull towards traditional adversarial approaches to disputes. It is nothing short of a miracle when a couple agrees to divorce collaboratively.
One of the major hurdles for these truly exceptional people is finding the right collaborative attorney. As more people ask lawyers for a collaborative divorce, more attorneys are offering collaborative divorce. Unfortunately, even the most aggressive trial attorneys with no prior collaborative training are happy to offer this service. And, then, there is "cooperative divorce." People are often mislead to thinking that "cooperative divorce" is a functional equivalent to collaborative divorce. "Cooperative divorce" is still a litigation process, in which attorneys will make some efforts to settle before going to trial. Considering 95 percent of all divorce cases don't go to trial, virtually all divorce litigators practice "cooperative divorce." There is a big difference between collaborative lawyers and lawyers who say they want to settle your case.
Collaborative divorce and conventional litigation take place in two separate universes. Going from the world of litigation to the collaborative world is best described in the term, "paradigm shift." It is like switching from Creationism to Darwinism. Usually attorneys by personality, aptitude, and philosophy are either one type or the other. Generally, good litigators don't work well within the collaborative framework unless they have been trained in collaborative law and practice collaborative law on a regular basis. I am not suggesting that litigators can’t be collaborative. However, “being collaborative” and practicing “collaborative divorce" are two different things. Generally speaking, the best trial lawyers do not tend to be good collaborative lawyers, although there are always exceptions. For this reason, it is critical to find and hire a true collaborative attorney.
So, how does one go about finding a real collaborative attorney?
The best place to look for collaborative divorce attorneys is on your local collaborative law association’s website. You can visit the website of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. For Washington State, you should start by looking at the Collaborative Professionals of Washington. See if the attorney you are considering hiring is a member. You can narrow down the list of the attorneys in your area by county.
Another good place to find collaborative divorce attorneys is by referral from other professionals, such as certified divorce financial planners, divorce coaches, or marriage/family therapists.
Finally, the google search under the search terms "collaborative divorce" and "your city" is a good starting point. Pay close attention to the wordings in the websites. Does the website talk about aggressively protecting your rights, or fighting for the best possible deal? Does the lawyer advertise that she practices “collaborative divorce,” or just that she is “collaborative? Does the website advertise her litigation practice?
If you are interested in pursuing a collaborative divorce, I applaud and congratulate you for being an uncommonly wise and courageous minority. Please remember to do your homework before hiring a lawyer.