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Anybody who has been through a divorce will admit it's painful, combative and often destructive of future family relationships.

There are a number of ways to get a divorce, but some splitting couples are finding collaborative divorce (CD) a way to minimize adversarial conflict and avoid litigation. Instead of litigating the various issues in a divorce court, represented by adversarial lawyers, a Minnesota attorney designed CD as a more respectful way.

In CD, the couple meets together with their individual attorneys, and perhaps a joint financial expert, a child specialist and separate divorce coaches, who help assuage the anger and hurt feelings. The CD attorneys, usually members of collaborative practice groups, are found all over the US.

Frank and Stephanie Ellis, separated three years, decided to end their eight-year marriage, taking the CD route. They resolved the custody of their child, but difficult financial issues remained. At the first group meeting, the parties brought an agenda of items. At the second session, they stated their position on each issue. After four sessions, the Ellises finalized their divorce in a fifteen minute meeting.

This is an excellent model for couples who aren't out to hurt each other. It was accomplished in a short time and for less money than if had they gone for a court determination. The cost here was about $14,000. I don't think this is a cheap divorce. Divorces need not cost that much, providing the parties have already agreed on major points of contention.

In CD, if the team of counselors cannot find a solution, the two attorneys withdraw and each party secures trial attorneys to litigate the unresolved matters. The costs will mount, and hard feelings and positions will ratchet up.

Critics of CD claim attorneys should fight for the best interests of clients but collaborative divorce does not accomplish that end. They say parties could hide assets, absent judicial checks and balances. This is not a valid criticism, as in CD conferences, the parties would be expected to document their asset assertions. CD is a good thing for children who often suffer from the divisiveness of a fought out divorce. This is a more rational way to get on with your life.

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