Lawyer Stuart Webb created collaborative divorce right here in Minneapolis in 1990 due to his frustration at the red tape surrounding the end of marriages. He refused to keep going to court on the behalf of divorcing clients, instead helping them work out their differences outside of court. He decided to turn his more difficult and (to him) unrewarding cases over to another attorney who preferred a more traditional and litigious approach.

Other attorneys in the city took notice of Webb’s revolutionary process, and some of them liked the approach so much that they decided to copy his methods. Per Webb’s process, all four individuals involved – both spouses and the two opposing lawyers – signed a contract, agreeing to pursue an amicable resolution and requiring both attorneys to withdraw if the case landed in court. In other words, the process incentivized the attorneys to make the negotiations really work. Thanks to the early success of this collaborative method, news soon spread from Minnesota to other states, as other family law lawyers looked for better ways to negotiate divorces.

When the court system in Medicine Hat, Alberta, took advantage of the collaborative idea, the community’s rate of divorce dropped by a stunning 85 percent, because so many couples decided not to split up thanks to the collective efforts of the collaborative team. The practice gained even more publicity after high profile newspapers and magazines, including Maclean’s, The Toronto Star, The Lawyer’s Weekly, started writing about it.

Advantages of Collaborative Law

In addition to being much less contentious, collaborative generally costs less than traditional divorce. The practice is also continuing to gain acceptance and momentum across the nation and in Canada. Experts who study marriage and divorce data believe this trend will only continue.

Clients should not confuse collaborative divorce with divorce mediation.

Collaborative divorce does not involve a mediator, who acts as a neutral party. None of the parties in collaborative divorce is neutral, although they all work together to negotiate a settlement. Each attorney looks out for the client’s best interests and gives his or her client appropriate legal counsel.

Who Does Collaborative Divorce Help?

What couples benefit most from collaborative divorce? While each situation differs, this method is particularly useful in the following cases:

•    You and your spouse have traditionally struggled to communicate;
•    You have serious concerns about property division;
•    One person in the marriage has controlled the finances;
•    You have children or other dependents;
•    You have concerns about visitation and custody.