20 years ago, I had the opportunity to help bring a new process to Texas to resolve divorces – Collaborative Divorce. It was a breath of fresh air for caring, conscious lawyers who had been representing folks in divorce and other family law matters for years. We proceeded to provide training, forms, and practice procedures to help Texas lawyers do this new process, and do it well.
Today, Texas is seen as a leader in Collaborative Divorce in the country. Most of those lawyers who were trained in the beginning continue to represent clients in the Collaborative Divorce process, and some only handle matters collaboratively. And hundreds and hundreds of other lawyers have been trained during those 20 years.
In order to help get Collaborative started in Texas, I went on the speaking circuit, talking to lawyers and the public to educate them about the benefits of Collaborative. I called many of those early talks “The Family Law Menu” because before Collaborative was introduced, we all pretty much handled all divorces the same way. It was all in the litigation process, even though most divorces settled without a final trial.
Collaborative opened my mind to the idea that there can be multiple possible processes to help parties resolve their divorces. That’s when we started talking about a “menu” or “process options”, including “kitchen table” (where the parties primarily work out the terms), “lawyer/lawyer negotiation” (using the lawyers as a conduit of the parties’ settlement communications), “mediation” (which in Texas is really adjunct to the litigation process), “Collaborative Divorce” (where the parties and their two lawyers have a series of meetings together and have assistance from a neutral financial professional and a neutral mental health professional), and last “litigation” (using the court to resolve the issues).
Because I was a constant speaker for a few years on these topics, and a leader in the Collaborative Divorce movement in Texas, many of my long time friends and referral sources began to assume that my firm only handled “friendly” divorces or divorces in the collaborative process.
That has never been true, and it’s for several good reasons:
- parties need strong, competent legal help regardless of the process used;
- most folks don’t know what type of process will be best for them until they meet with a good attorney who can help them make that decision; and
- we want to be able to help all individuals have a better divorce experience, regardless of how difficult the circumstances, the other party, or the other attorney may be.
Some folks, because of fear and anxiety, believe they must have a hard-fought, contentious divorce. And if they only see attorneys who handle divorces that way, that’s what they will end up with. While some clients do need to resolve their disputes in the litigation process, many who believe it’s necessary can learn that not only is it not, but it’s a really bad idea for them to reach the goals they have.
So, Jonathan, Bryce, and I handle cases in court throughout our days, weeks, and months for clients who must go there. But the difference in our approach and many others is that we work with them to see what the best process is that will help them achieve their goals. Then we pursue that process diligently, using our deep experience and knowledge of both family law, and the court system and procedures to achieve our clients’ best possible outcome. That’s what it’s all about!