Collaborative Law Is New Trend in ‘Good Divorce’

By Karen West

It’s been described by some as the “wave of the future.” Critics say it’s a little too touchy-feely. Many who have been through it say it gave them a calmer, gentler way to divorce.

Collaborative law has been quietly practiced across the country for the past 13 years and is now taking hold in Washington state. Spouses or partners, along with their attorneys, sign a contract committing to resolve all issues related to ending their marriage without going to court or threatening to do so. Both parties and their attorneys work as a team to achieve a just, equitable and mutually acceptable settlement.


Viewed as a cost-effective and timesaving process, the concept of collaborative law was created in 1990 by Minnesota attorney and mediator Stu Webb. He began practicing collaborative law out of frustration with divorce litigation.


Seattle family law attorney Stefani Quane, known professionally as the “Law Lady,” started pushing for Washington’s first collaborative law group three years ago. It was recently incorporated as the nonprofit Northwest Collaborative Divorce – a group of independent lawyers, coaches, financial planners, child specialists, business evaluators, accountants, mediators and others who work as a team to help couples end their relationships in a mature, win-win manner.


t 0in">Quane, co-president with Seattle attorney Rachel Felbeck, says the association has grown to more than 50 members who have practices in Seattle, Bellevue and Everett.

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t 0in">Informal settlement and negotiation discussions occur with both counsel and clients in attendance and are conducted in a nonconfrontational atmosphere, according to Northwest Collaborative Divorce guidelines. Parties are encouraged to hire a child advocate to serve on their professional team to give voice to the child’s perspective and needs. The advocate is a trained professional who meets with the child, the parents and other influential people in the child’s life, such as grandparents or teachers, to work out a parenting arrangement.

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t 0in; TEXT-ALIGN: justify">In her book, Collaborative Law (American Bar Association, 2001), San Francisco attorney Pauline Tesler says the new approach has reached a turning point: In the United States and Canada, some now consider collaborative law a mainstream divorce-resolution process.

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t 0in">The Washington State Bar Association has not officially embraced collaborative law, but it has published numerous articles in the last two years detailing the legal approach. Last month, the bar association hosted a daylong legal education seminar on collaborative law.

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t 0in">WSBA 2003 President Dick Manning wrote in a Bar News article: “Many see this kind of approach (collaborative law) to dispute resolution as the wave of the future.”

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