Collaborative Divorce: Better for Everyone

BY SHARYN MAGGIO

When it comes to divorce, emotions and the desire to be litigious often run high. The toll on a divorcing family is both emotional and financial—and it can be devastating to both children and parents.

An alternative to litigation in family breakups is called “collaborative divorce,” a process begun by Stu Webb in Minneapolis, in the 1980s. Webb, a family lawyer, looked for a way to resolve divorce disputes through a process in which parties—counsel and clients—would agree not to go to court. Webb found that when this option was taken out of the picture, attorneys used their skills as problem solvers to collaborate and settle cases rather than litigate. In the 1990s practitioners in California went a step further, using an interdisciplinary team comprising an attorney and a mental health coach for each spouse, a financial specialist and, if there are children, a child advocate. A financial specialist is always involved in the process, even if the finances appear simple. He or she can take on the role of educator if the financial aspects are straightforward or expands that role to a full engagement including forensic accounting and business appraisal services if the negotiations are more complex. Of course all the professionals are still held to their own set of professional standards, including the confidentiality required of them. But spouses are requested to waive confidentiality so that all the members of the team can talk freely and openly.

The practice of collaborative divorce law is now international and the parent organization is the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). Its Web site ( www.collaborativepractice.com ) is a resource for practitioners interested in this area as well as for individuals interested in the process. Membership in the IACP sometimes comes as a part of the membership dues of a practice.

Sharyn Maggio, CPA/ABV, principal,
Maggio & Company, Eatontown, N.J.

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