"Teamwork" in Collaborative Divorce? What's THAT All About?

It can be hard to properly explain how Collaborative Divorce is different from traditional negotiation between attorneys.

It's easy to say, "I represent your interests, but I'm also part of a team working together toward settlement." Descriptions like that can come across as vague buzzwords. What does it really look like in practice?

Here's a great illustration, from one of my own cases.

The setting: a phone call between me, the attorney representing the other spouse, and a financial professional. The other attorney and I were describing the case to the financial professional, whose job would be to provide some neutral financial reports and projections to help the parties make decisions about their financial separation.

After we finished describing the case, we asked the financial professional if she had any questions.

"Yes," she said. "Before we continue..."

"I have to ask — who represents whom?"

This is not how we imagine a typical conversation involving attorneys who represent different parties in a case. You might expect each attorney to use the opportunity to stake out his or her client's "positions" and describe the facts in as favorable a light as possible for that client.

In Collaborative Law, we recognize that discussing the facts neutrally and transparently lays the best possible foundation for a fair and reasonable settlement. Taking positions and coloring the facts only polarizes the clients, encourages them to dig in their heels in unproductive ways, and ultimately makes favorable settlements harder, not easier.

Of course, every attorney has a duty to represent his or her client's interests. That goes without saying, and believe me — there is plenty of time in Collaborative Divorce to explore how those interests can be met in the final settlement. It might even get heated and feel adversarial at times.

But even when the going gets tough, even as the attorneys work diligently to advance their clients' respective interests, we are still a "team." We still work together to have a shared understanding of the facts of the case (or a shared understanding of where there is disagreement on the facts) and how the Collaborative Law process can be used to help the clients reach agreements.

That's why, in the phone call I described, and in the joint meetings where we guide the clients through all the decisions they need to make, it's not always obvious who represents whom.

That's what "teamwork" in Collaborative Divorce is all about!