By Annie Finnigan
When my ex and I decided that our marriage was truly and totally over, we vowed that we'd have the best possible divorce. After all, we'd spent half of our lives together and had a young daughter, family, and friends in common. We started out talking in a mediator's office, which was going well -- until we hit a bump and flew into opposing corners, our attorneys doing battle.
If only we'd known about collaborative divorce (CD). About a million couples divorce each year in the United States, and most, like my ex and me, start out striving to keep the split amicable. And though you may have good intentions, things can go awry during the traditional I-win-you-lose adversarial process. CD is more civilized. It begins with the two parties signing a commitment agreement stating that they won't go to court. Instead, they both sit down with attorneys and discuss each problem -- anything from who gets the house to who pays for violin camp -- until they find a solution that everyone can live with. "The goal is to help clients end marriages as peacefully and positively as possible," says Stuart Webb, a family lawyer from Minneapolis who created CD because he was fed up with being involved in so many ugly divorces.
As effective as CD can be, it's unlikely to be successful when there's a deep lack of trust, an inability to keep commitments, a high degree of rage, or a burning need for revenge. "If you want your day in court, forget it," says Sheila Gutterman, an attorney in Lone Tree, Colorado. But those willing to put in the effort up front are likely to encounter the following win-win advantages.