Collaborative Practice--a New Option for Divorce
Barbara Bowen, LCSW

Collaborative Practice is a way to resolve disputes in a fair and respectful manner, without going to court. In Collaborative Practice, the goal is to reach a mutually agreeable settlement that takes into consideration the needs and interests of each party. People who are divorcing can now retain Collaborative Professionals to help them reach agreements that settle the issues in ways that they both feel good about, rather than facing adversarial and expensive court battles over custody of children and financial settlements. Instead of increasing emotional stress and hostile feelings, Collaborative Practice provides an opportunity for divorcing couples to navigate the breakup of their marriage with respect and lays the groundwork to maintain a respectful relationship after the issues are resolved.

In Collaborative Practice, the clients and professionals agree to work respectfully and in good faith to gather all information needed to reach an agreement, including developing the interests of each client. Collaborative Professionals provide a safe environment for difficult conversations and teach clients the skills necessary to negotiate with each other and to problem solve difficult issues.

When couples are separating or divorcing, the Collaborative team includes attorneys for each party, and most often includes divorce coaches as well. Attorneys provide support and expertise in understanding and addressing legal issues. Divorce coaches may be used to assist the parties to clarify their goals, stabilize their emotions and strengthen their communication skills. If there are children, meetings with the coaches provide separating parents the opportunity to meet with each other to candidly discuss their concerns about the children and to formulate a parenting plan. Meetings with coaches can also be used to improve the co-parenting relationship in order to protect the children from power struggles between parents.

If additional experts are needed, the parties agree on using neutral specialists such as financial experts and child specialists to provide them with information needed to assist them in making the best decisions possible for them and for their children. Child specialists meet with children to bring the voice of the children into the process. Financial experts assist the clients in reviewing the many options available to resolve financial issues in a way that meets each of their specific needs.

The benefits of using Collaborative Practice continue long after the issues are resolved. Because the process provides security, reduces anxiety and hostility, and leads to mutually satisfactory solutions, parties are more able to move forward with a stronger feeling of security and with less conflict in the future. They will have developed more tools for effective problem solving in the future. And if they have children, they will have developed a stronger co-parenting relationship with the other parent which will be a life long benefit for their children.

For more information visit the website of the Collaborative Council of the Redwood Empire at or the website of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals at


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