One of my favorite assignments as a board-certified family lawyer was being chosen by a family court judge to represent a child whose parents were divorcing. The reason the courts appoint attorneys for children whose parents cannot agree on post-divorce care and custodial arrangements, is to protect the children from the worst aspects of their parents’ dispute and to give them a voice in the process. It was a gratifying job, but a frustrating one.
What I heard from practically every one of my clients who were old enough to share their feelings was the plea to “please make my parents stop fighting.” Sounds simple, but it wasn’t. The very system they were embroiled in as an adversarial one – designed to pit people against each other, with the theory that a court could hear both sides and sort everything out to come up with the best solution. As my grandchildren would say: Not! Or at least, not always.
This story had a happy ending for me as a practitioner. In 2000 I heard about collaborative divorce – a process that is non-adversarial and designed to provide the most protection for children whose parents are divorcing. In fact, if one of the parents wants to become adversarial, the process must cease and both attorneys must bow out of representation and send their clients to litigation attorneys. In the hundreds of cases I have had as a collaborative attorney, only a handful didn’t settle. And hundreds of children were protected from the worst aspects of divorce.