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Just because it’s a Gay Divorce doesn’t mean it’s a happy one

As seen in The Collaborate Alliance Blog, October 2009

Even the most amicable divorces can be emotionally difficult. Rarely do you hear, “This is huge news. We’re ecstatic,” from involved parties, even in lopsided court settlements.

Then again, rarely are same sex partners given the go-ahead to divorce…in Texas, anyway. In fact, it’s never happened before.

But last week, as reported in The Dallas Morning News, Dallas state District Judge Tena Callahan ruled that two men married in another state can divorce here and that the state’s ban on gay marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.

Now, we’re not here to argue the merits of gay marriage. In fact, we’re not here to argue at all. (That’s one of the proud hallmarks of Collaborative Divorce.) The Collaborative Alliance exists simply to make dissolution of relationships a more reasoned and respectful process – one that creates healthier outcomes for all parties.

Why might a same sex couple in Dallas consider The Collaborative Approach?

• The Collaborative Process is private – between you, your partner, and your Collaborative team. Instead of a public fight in a courtroom, your Collaborative dispute is handled respectfully, discreetly and without public drama.

• Life decisions are made by clients, not the courts. Whether or not Judge Callahan’s ruling is upheld or struck down, why would any client want to put their fate into the hands of the courts? The Collaborative Alliance facilitates respectful, efficient conversation, avoiding intervention by courts.

The Collaborative Process helps you maintain a more complete community network. In any adversarial dissolution, friends can feel forced to side with one partner or another. But the cooperative tone established in collaboration helps prevent such disruption of other life relationships, so your support network is more intact.

• Collaboration paves the way for more effective co-parenting after divorce. Open dialogue, respectful communications and the assistance of legal and mental health professionals assures both partners that they’ll be building a foundation that will allow for better co-parenting even after their relationship is dissolved. And that’s healthier for everyone – parents and children alike.

Whether dissolving a marriage or untangling a long-term relationship, The Collaborative Alliance can help couples, gay or straight, achieve a healthier outcome. Talk to us, and we’ll help you talk to each other.

For more information, visit The Collaborative Alliance http://www.thecollaborativealliance.com/blog/?p=83

For more information on family law solutions, visit www.aj-familylaw.com

Alimony in Texas

By Jody L. Johnson

Clients frequently ask about their obligation to pay or ability to receive alimony. Texas Courts have limited authority to order alimony after a divorce is granted. However, while your case is pending, the Court has unlimited authority to award temporary spousal support. The Court will consider the needs of the requesting spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay. The Court will additionally consider the health and age of the parties, ability to work, responsibility for children, availability of funds, and the length of the marriage. As a general rule, temporary spousal support will be ordered for a limited period of time and in an amount necessary to cover the basic necessities of life. To receive alimony after divorce (referred to as “spousal maintenance”), generally you must have been married for a period exceeding 10 years, and in certain situations, you may be qualified to receive up to $2,500 per month for a maximum of three years. It is also necessary that you show that you have been diligent in seeking suitable employment or developing skills necessary to become self-supporting. There are some exceptions, such as in the event you have an incapacitating physical or mental disability or you are the custodian of a child of the marriage who requires substantial care because of a physical or mental disability that impacts your ability to work.

For more information on family law solutions, visit www.aj-familylaw.com

Collaborative Law and the Affair

by Carla Calabrese
As seen on The Collaborative Alliance Blog

Affairs are one of the leading reasons sited for divorce. And while traditional divorce attorneys often tell clients that affairs are not appropriate cases for Collaboration, the opposite is actually true. (In fact, a quick poll of the attorneys on this blog roll would confirm that most of their cases involve affairs.)

Whether you’re the spouse who’s discovered the affair, or you’re the one who is having it, Collaboration can create a better outcome than giving up control to the courts – healthier for children, more private, and more financially beneficial.

Now, If your spouse had the affair, you may be thinking, perhaps even justifiably, “I want him/her to suffer. I want their paramour to be scared or embarrassed by a subpoena – serves them both right!”

While these emotions are natural, acting on them is dangerous and just plain bad business. Unfortunately, there are attorneys who fuel this bitterness and acrimony. And by stoking adversarial fires, they can actually protract the proceedings. Guess who “wins” then.

Traditional divorce involving a workplace affair is especially problematic. If the boss finds out, your spouse could be fired! And if that spouse is a substantial or even sole source of income, everyone loses.

Worse, sometimes having an affair with a colleague could give rise to a lawsuit for sexual harassment. Community dollars that you could get in the divorce settlement would be spent on lawyers defending a sexual harassment suit or more likely, paying off the paramour. (Yes, it happens!)

Yet there are adversarial lawyers who pursue workplace affair cases for “stay at home moms,” knowing that litigation may be jeopardizing the couple’s only significant asset – the husband’s job and/or career.

Collaborative Divorce works best for affairs because:

1. It protects all parties’ privacy. No matter which side you’re on, you want privacy. Collaborative divorce is a confidential process. No court, no hearings, no deposition of your boyfriend reciting all the sordid details, no girlfriend being cross-examined on the stand at your trial. No public statements from the cheating spouse about why they “needed to look outside the marriage…” Privacy is your friend. Collaborative Divorce is the only real way to assure it.

2. Legal costs can be lessened. In the collaborative process, the affair is dealt with mainly by the mental health professional. If one or both spouses desire, the mental health professional can meet with them individually and/or together outside the purview of the lawyer. This can dramatically decrease legal costs.

3. It keeps the control where it belongs – with the clients, not the courts. You can reach your goals with more dignity and more efficiently than litigation could ever provide.

Sometimes, despite an affair, a couple actually reconciles during Collaboration. Given the confidential and non-blaming nature of the process, this makes sense. The opportunity is there and has not been destroyed by aggressive, alienating actions often taken in a traditional divorce case.

That’s the benefit of Collaborative Divorce in every case – less damage, more dignity. And that’s something all divorcing couples can use help with, especially in the case of an affair.
For more information on The Collaborative Alliance, visit www.thecollaborativealliance.com
For more information on family law solutions, visit www.aj-familylaw.com

Contemplating Divorce?

By Jody L. Johnson
Contemplating divorce is scary, and lack of information further drives fear. There is so much information on the internet about divorce that it is virtually impossible for a lay person to separate fact from fiction. The best course of action is to talk to more than one competent attorney. I recommend getting personal referrals and then checking out those individuals by reviewing their website, checking out whether they have any complaint history with their State Bar, as well as looking at other peer review ratings that might be available for attorneys in your area. Just as you wouldn’t generally select a doctor randomly, you should be just as cautious in selecting an attorney. Consider talking to friends, your minister, CPA’s, or attorneys you may know who do not practice in the area of family law. Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings attest to a lawyer’s legal ability and professional ethics, and reflect the confidential opinions of members of the Bar and Judiciary. The ratings cannot be purchased by attorneys.

You should expect to pay some kind of consultation fee to see an attorney. Again, think about if you were going to see a doctor to get advice on what is wrong and how to treat the problem. You expect to pay for their expert advice, and seeing an attorney is no different. Although there are good attorneys out there who don’t charge for consultations, most do, because good attorneys are busy and can afford to charge for their consultation time.

Before the consultation, write out a list of questions that you have so you don’t forget to get your important concerns addressed. A good attorney will be patient in responding to your questions. You will want to ask about the attorney’s level of experience: do they have experience with the particular issues in your case, and how often do they go to court in the area where you reside. You will also want to make sure that you understand the steps involved in your divorce, and ask the attorney how you can best protect yourself during the process. Again, the attorney should gladly respond to all of these questions. If it feels as if the attorney is putting you off (“we’ll get to all of that later”), I would say that is a red flag that the attorney is more concerned about signing you up as a client then serving your interests.

Look for an attorney who asks you lots of questions about what is important to you (e.g. quality time with your children, keeping your business, etc.). You want an attorney who is listening to your concerns rather than one who does all the talking and tells you what they will do. Be wary of attorneys who make promises about the outcome of your case. No competent attorney can tell you that in a consultation; they don’t have nearly enough information. Also be wary of attorneys who act as if they will come out with “guns blazing” for you. Although that may feel good to know that someone will be your protector, more often than not, an extremely aggressive approach is counter-productive to your interests. It will likely increase the level of hostility with your spouse and decrease your ability to reach a favorable settlement. At the same time, it will increase the attorney’s fees dramatically, which benefits the attorney but not you. That being said, you need to know that your attorney knows how to prepare a case for trial if necessary and then actually try the case. Find out how much experience they have at the courthouse.

As far as steps you can take before you see an attorney, the best thing you can do is to gather and organize information. Absent a true emergency, do not make any major decisions in advance of consulting with an attorney. Don’t move money, withdraw money from financial accounts, cut off your spouse’s ability to use credit cards, etc. without getting some professional advice.

It will help you and your divorce attorney if you are able to organize your financial information. Make a budget that lists all current monthly expenses of the family, including any unusual expenses that are coming up (replace roof; college tuition payment, etc.). Also make a list of all of the assets (house, bank accounts, retirement, life insurance, cars, etc. – not a list of your furniture and furnishings) and debts. Include accounts numbers if you have those. Make copies of the last 3 years of tax returns, most recent pay stubs for you and/or your spouse, and the most recent statements for your financial and retirement accounts. Don’t worry if you don’t have access to this information. Lots of people don’t and your attorney can help you obtain it. However, if you do have it, it helps you stay ahead of the curve.

Depending on the issues in your case, it may also be helpful to copy cell phone records, emails, credit card statements and Face book pages if there is concern about an affair.

For more information on Kip Allison and family law solutions, visit www.aj-familylaw.com

Planning for Divorce

By Jody Johnson

The most important step you should take in planning for a divorce is to hire an attorney who will inform you about your options and help you make decisions for your futures. This is your divorce. The decisions you make now will have lasting effects on your children and your financial security. Now is not the time to surrender control. You want to find a lawyer who will act as a professional partner with you; one who will inform you about all of your legal options, help obtain relevant information, and explain the pros and cons of each possible option so that you can make the best decision at this critical time.

If you don’t like everything that you are hearing from the attorney, then the attorney is probably shooting straight with you. No client has a perfect case. You do not want a cheerleader or best friend who tells you what you want to hear. You need accurate information to make informed decisions. If you are contemplating divorce, you are not functioning at your best. You need a clear-thinking advocate.

Even at the initial consultation, an attorney should be able to clearly explain to you a general strategy for getting you divorced, and explain the reasons why the strategy is recommended. You should feel comfortable with the attorney and if you don’t, find someone else. Rely on your instincts.

Clients have the option of litigating or collaborating their divorce. Litigating means that your disputed issues are resolved through the court system. A collaborative divorce is an option if you want to resolve issues away from the courthouse, focus on you and your children’s interests, and have control over the outcome. The process incorporates the benefits of a neutral financial professional and mental health professional (sometimes referred to as “divorce coach”) to help you and your spouse communicate more effectively and develop and negotiate parenting and financial plans. There is a contractual agreement to stay out of court. You should inform yourself about these options in advance of seeing an attorney and consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable about both options. A lawyer who only practices family law one way cannot fully inform you and you may end up selecting a process that is not best suited for your situation. Also be cautious of an attorney who only practices in one arena and tells you that your case isn’t suited for the other; there is an obvious financial incentive on the part of the lawyer who will lose your business if he recommends an options for you that he can’t provide. For more information about the collaborative option, see the website for the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (www.collaborativepractice.com) or the state organization in your particular state.
For more information on Jody Johnson and family law solutions, visit www.jljfamilylaw.com

Having a Collaborative Divorce with an Alcoholic or Drug Using Spouse

By: Jody L. Johnson of Allison | Johnson

There are lots of lawyers who will tell their clients that it is not possible to have a collaborative divorce with an active alcoholic or drug user spouse. Although it does present special challenges, it also presents an opportunity to protect children and reach settlements that would not be possible in traditional litigation. There are those limited cases where a person is so deep into their addiction that they cannot participate effectively in the collaborative process. However, those same people cannot effectively participate in litigation either and likely need to be in a treatment program in order to proceed in any process.

In Texas, the Courts are mandated by law to order a parenting time schedule that has the minimum restrictions required to protect children. As a result, in most cases an addict parent will have parenting time with their children, and it may not be supervised (or be supervised for a limited period). Almost always, the other parent is extremely upset with the outcome at the courthouse. Additionally, the parents become more polarized because the addict parent is angry as a result of being embarrassed at the courthouse by having his/her addiction “on display”. The addict parent typically sinks deeper into denial, all to the potential detriment of the safety of the children. They also become angry at the other spouse and take an attitude that “I won’t give them a penny more than the court orders”. In the collaborative process we are much more able to monitor the addiction and keep a lid on the situation. By discussing the addiction in a completely private and confidential setting, and without pointing fingers or assessing blame, we are more likely to get cooperation from the addict parent. Rather than focus on the addict parent, we focus on the addiction as a family problem and look at options for everyone to deal with it. Once they realize that we are not going to focus on them as the bad guy, they tend to be more open to exploring ways to keep the children safe and many even agree to seek treatment. When the addict parent feels like he/she has had some measure of control over the situation, then they are more invested and more likely to be compliant with the agreements they make. I have seen addict parents acknowledge that they are not ready to go into treatment and come up with parenting plans that are very protective of their children but allow them to have some form of relationship. I have also seen addict parents admit to relapse at some point in the process because they feel safe in doing that. In the litigation model, they hide their addiction because they know it will likely be used against them harshly.

By avoiding the blame game, clients are also more likely to obtain more favorable settlements than they might in court. When backed into a corner, most of us dig in our heels and become focused on not giving the other person what they want. In collaborative, clients are often open to favorable trades in exchange for their spouse showing them some respect and not using their addiction as a weapon.
For more information on Kip Allison and family law solutions, visit www.aj-familylaw.com

Good Communication Starts With Listening

by Nancy Foster

Many of us think that communication is talking – and talk we do. We interrupt, advise, reassure, judge, analyze, criticize, argue, moralize, threaten, divert, diagnose, etc., etc. But, good communication requires good listening as well as talking. In fact, since we have two ears and only one mouth, listening just might be the more important skill. However, we receive almost no training in good listening and usually do not realize that really “hearing” someone is not a passive activity.

To be a good listener, we must, first, pay attention. The remainder of this article will focus on “attending” skills. The next article will discuss how to listen “actively” rather than passively.

When you are speaking and someone is not paying attention, how do you feel? Annoyed, frustrated, discounted, rejected, anxious or angry? Such feelings usually make communication more difficult. So how can we show someone who is speaking that we really are paying attention to them? We can do this both nonverbally and verbally.

Research shows that about 85% of what we communicate is nonverbal. This includes our posture, physical movements, eye contact and our psychological presence. So, when someone is speaking to you, is your posture inclined toward the speaker, so as to invite and encourage expression? Or is your back turned or your arms or legs tightly crossed, which discourages and cuts off involvement? Are you fidgeting or otherwise distracting the speaker or yourself? Are you making good eye contact with the person? By looking at and observing the speaker, not only will the speaker feel “attended” to, you will learn more about what is really important to him or her. Finally, we cannot pretend to pay attention by employing these physical techniques without also being psychologically present. We can’t fake interest. The speaker will know if our hearts and minds are not really there.

Verbal ways of showing that we are paying attention include

1. an open invitation to talk,

2. using one or two words to encourage talking to continue,

3. asking open-ended questions and

4. knowing when to be silent.

For example, “You look like something is bothering you. Do you want to talk about it?” describes a person’s body language followed by an open invitation to talk. It is important to silently allow the person time to decide whether to talk and what to talk about. If someone chooses not to accept the invitation, don’t try to force them. Back off and respect their privacy.

Brief responses to encourage continued talking include “mm-hmmm,” “I see,” “Oh?” “Right,” “And?” “Go on,” “Tell me more,” etc. These don’t imply either agreement or disagreement. They simply mean “Yes, I hear you – please go on.”

A good listener uses questions sparingly because questions tend to focus the conversation on the questioner’s perspective and concerns and can derail the focus of the speaker. Work on asking fewer questions, and when you do, ask “open-ended” questions. Compare “Did you call the

police?” to “What did you do?” Or, “Do you feel anxious about the meeting tomorrow?” to “How do you feel about the meeting tomorrow?” An open-ended question is like an essay question which allows the speaker, rather than the questioner, to lead the conversation and clarify his or her own concerns. A closed question is like a true/false question and often suggests or narrows the agenda.

Finally, knowing when to be silent can be a powerful communication tool. Silence allows the speaker to become aware of his or her own feelings, to explore more deeply and to proceed at his or her own pace. Because many listeners become self-conscious with silence, they feel the need to “break” it by talking or asking questions. Unfortunately, this usually disrupts and derails the speaker. How can silence be handled? Pay attention to the body posture of the speaker and “listen” to what it says to you. Try to imagine what the speaker might be feeling, consider various ways that you might respond, and then choose the most helpful response.

Child-Centered Divorce: Learning from the Mistakes of Others

By Rosalind Sedacca, CCT

Over the years there have been endless studies on the effects of divorce on parents and children. Some of the results are controversial. Others seem to be univrsally accepted as relevant and real. Here are a few of my perceptions from studies on children who experience divorce that I believe all of us, as parents, should take to heart.

Not surprisingly, the first two years of divorce are the most diffuclt. In some cases it takes an average of three to five years to really “work through” and resolve many of the issues and emotions that come to the surface. For some, the effects of divorce last many additonal years — or even a lifetime — if not dealt with appropratiely. Taking steps toward a child-centered divorce can dramatically impact the negative effects of divorce on all members of the family. It will help everyone to move through this time rather than merely letting “time heal all wounds.”

Preschoolers tend to be more frightened and anxious, but seem to adjust better than older children in the long run. Their biggest fear is of abandonment. Stressing security and a continuation of family routines is very helpful for them. Older children understand more, but do not have adequate coping skills and therefore seem to have more long-term problems. This is often becasue they remember life before the divorce and so experience a greater change of life patterns and dwell more on comparisons between the past and present. Stressing the love both parents have for the child — and that that love will continue forever is vitally important whenever possible.

Children who may have witnessd a troubled marriage and family life may greatly benefit from observing their parents now working out a reasonable and respectful post-divorce arrangement. This positive and mature behavior will affect a child’s adjustment more than any other factor.

It is never too late to create a child-centered divorce, even if you started on the wrong track. Every step you take toward focusing on your children’s emotional, psychological and physical needs as they move through the months and years post-divorce, will be a step toward modeling for them how loving, compassionate, and caring parents respond to their children’s needs. I encourage you to make your relationship with your children’s other parent as respectful and considerate as you can — for the sake of your children.

Collaborative Divorce Could Be Society’s Wave of the Future

US News & World Report

Two fascinating legal trends reflect society’s sea change in attitude toward family and interpersonal relationships. The first is collaborative divorce, which sounds like an oxymoron but is actually a brilliant concept. The second, which I’ll get to in my next blog entry, is “legalized friendships.”

Marriage expert Stephanie Coontz wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal that since the 1980s, Americans have been inventing ways to make divorce less adversarial.

“The War of the Roses” is so yesterday. Divorced best friends is so 21st century. We’ve finally learned that failed relationships need not ratchet up to and end in nuclear-like conflict.

There are several reasons for collaborative divorces, not the least of which is cost savings. Mediation is still cheaper than collaborative divorce. But collaborative divorces are considerably cheaper than nasty, drawn-out, litigated divorces. Coontz quotes one expert who estimates the average cost of a mediated divorce is less than $7,000. The average cost of a collaborative divorce is less than $20,000. The average cost of a divorce negotiated by rival lawyers is $27,000, while a primo-style, nasty, litigated affair runs some $78,000.

So what is a collaborative divorce? The rules, Coontz says, are simple: “The divorcing couple and their attorneys agree in advance that they will disclose all pertinent information and will jointly engage neutral experts rather than hired guns . . . The attorneys agree not to litigate; if the process breaks down (as it does in about 5 percent of the cases), they are bound to withdraw rather than pursue the case in court. If the spouses then choose to litigate, each must hire a new lawyer and start from scratch.”

My first husband and I must have been trendsetters when we used the same lawyer in our mid-’80s divorce. We were in our twenties, just starting our careers, and had no children, and there was not a lot on the table to scrap over. We jointly owned a one-bedroom condominium, and neither of us had much in savings. I do not recall the exact cost of our parting, but it was minimal. Clearly there are the Paul McCartneys/Heather Millses of the world, to whom a civil parting of the ways is impossible. But for most of us, collaborative divorce is a welcome addition to the array of options.

The family-values crowd apparently worries that more options will drive up the divorce rate. That seems like a silly objection. If I wanted to be funny, I’d ask: What could drive up the divorce rate much higher than it already is?

Keen Interest in Gentler Ways to Divorce

By DAVID CRARY AP National Writer

Collaborative divorce. The term sounds like an oxymoron in a culture steeped in high-cost, high-conflict breakups.

Yet many couples are embracing the approach, recently endorsed by the American Bar Association, as part of a broader quest to find more civilized, efficient ways to end a marriage. Do-it-yourself divorces and mediation also are popular options.

Lawyers by the thousands want to be part of the trend.

“Most of us had that moment where we realize the adversarial process is so damaging for our clients _ and there’s a recognition that we can do better,” said Talia Katz, a former divorce lawyer who is executive director of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

Katz said the academy, just eight years old, now has 3,000 members, mostly lawyers but also financial planners and other professionals. She estimates that 20,000 attorneys have received training in collaborative law, and groups promoting the practice are active nationwide.

In contrast to mediation, in which divorcing couples entrust a resolution to a single neutral mediator, collaborative divorce involves the use of attorneys for each party, often joined by other expert consultants. But the lawyers, instead of sparring, pledge from the outset to work together in crafting an outcome that is fair to all.

“Most clients in a dispute are looking for an honorable peace, not war,” Boston lawyer David Hoffman wrote in recent op-ed for The Christian Science Monitor. “Collaborative lawyers can be just as zealous about seeking such a peace as litigators are about victory in the courtroom.”

Hoffman works at the Boston Law Collaborative, where the staff includes a psychologist and a financial planner. It offers divorcing couples a range of options, including mediation and collaborative divorce as well as conventional litigation.

The firm analyzed 199 of its recent divorce cases, and found that mediation, collaborative divorce and litigation all produced high rates of successful settlement. Mediation was by far the least expensive option, with a median cost of $6,600, compared to $19,723 for a collaborative divorce, $26,830 for settlements negotiated by rival lawyers, and $77,746 for full-scale litigation.

Sarah Smith, 47, of Sudbury, Mass., said she and her ex-husband, David Boyle, were able to complete a swift collaborative divorce two years ago for roughly $5,000.

“It was definitely the way to go in our situation _ we didn’t have piles of anger about each other, and we also didn’t have piles of money,” said Smith. “Our main concern was the welfare of the kids.”

Smith, Boyle and their two lawyers arranged for the two children, now 11 and 7, to split time with their parents, who live in neighboring Boston suburbs.

“We both liked both lawyers,” Smith said. “As a group, we had some laughs together, and that made it nicer.”

Boyle shares her appreciation.

“Because this process went so smoothly and we didn’t have a lot of baggage as a result, now the tone is set for raising the kids,” he said. “We get along. We work together to make it happen.”

Another appeal of collaborative divorce is confidentiality. While some high-profile divorces play out in court, billionaire Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt Disney and a major shareholder of The Walt Disney Co., embarked last January on a collaborative law divorce with his wife of 52 years, Patricia, that has avoided the limelight.

Supporters of collaborative law were dismayed last February, when the Colorado Bar Association declared such arrangements unethical on grounds that they prevented a lawyer from exercising undivided loyalty to a client. But in August, the American Bar Association’s Ethics Committee weighed in, endorsing the collaborative process as long as clients were fully informed about its provisions.

The growth of collaborative law is part of a broader trend away from courtroom divorce proceedings. Even members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, who serve a relatively affluent clientele, reported in a recent survey that increasing numbers of cases are being settled before trial.

“As cases get more expensive, a lot of people don’t want to spend the time, the hiring of experts that a trial entails,” said Gaetano Ferro of New Canaan, Conn., who just completed a term as the academy’s president.

Though his own business remains brisk, Ferro says he has observed an “explosion” of pro se divorces, in which one or both parties represent themselves.

There are no national statistics on pro se divorces, but recent surveys indicate that well over half the divorce cases in many jurisdictions now involve at least one pro se party.

To accommodate these non-lawyers and minimize procedural disruptions, many courts have established self-help centers and clinics. Easy-to-read instructions and legal forms are posted online. Sometimes case managers are available to guide people through the process.

In another trend called unbundling, several states now allow attorneys to offer limited help to people who can’t afford a full-service divorce. This coaching _ for example outlining options and helping draft a final agreement _ might cost $1,000 or so, many times less than the fee for full legal service.

Mediation is another popular option for divorces, although statistics on its use are scarce. Private mediation services abound, and many courts encourage or require an attempt at mediation in divorces involving disputes over children.

“At the heart of mediation is the belief that people can solve their own problems,” said Carl Schneider, a psychologist whose firm, Mediation Matters, serves divorcing couples in the Washington, D.C., area.

Schneider skeptically views collaborative divorce as an effort by lawyers to feel better about divorce work.

“There may be cases that need to be litigated _ but often you’re doing major damage to families, and attorneys know it,” Schneider said. “Collaborative law lets them think they’re doing something more useful.”

He depicted the collaborative approach as “a model for upper-middle-class divorce” because its price tag generally would be higher than mediation.

Rita Pollak, the Boston lawyer who represented David Boyle in his divorce, said mediation might be a good option for some couples, but there are reasons to try the collaborative approach.

“At mediation, each partner has to come to the table and speak for himself or herself at a really emotional time, and sometimes there’s an imbalance in knowledge or power,” she said. “If you don’t have your attorney at the table to protect you, the mediation can be pretty tricky.”

Among Schneider’s recent mediation clients is Bill Sanjoy, 45, of Bethesda, Md., a budget manager for a federal agency. He says he spent less than $5,000 on his divorce _ a third of what he had projected using an adversarial process.

Sanjoy emerged on good terms with his ex-wife and satisfied with a co-parenting arrangement for their two children.

“It’s nice to have someone who’s not antagonistic, who’s not trying to start a war, who wants you to be able to conclude a very difficult time in your life,” Sanjoy said.


On the Net:

Collaborative divorce: http://www.collaborativepractice.com

(Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)