Last week, the Seattle Times’ Susan Kelleher wrote a thoughtful, detailed article looking at “divorce without drama,” and the paradigm shift from adversarial divorce to cooperative divorce, which includes collaborative law.
Though the article, being from a Seattle newspaper, focuses on Washington family law proceedings, it explores the topic of divorce in a way that provides an excellent set of case studies regardless of what state you in. This passage from the article was particularly poignant and alarming:
Before 1973, if you wanted a divorce in Washington, you had to show bad conduct on the part of your spouse.
Seattle attorney J. Mark Weiss, a family and collaborative law specialist, says that led to a lot of lying in court as people made things up about their partners in order to meet the state’s requirements. Reputations were damaged, and families were ripped apart with the mother typically gaining custody of the children and the father receding into the background.
Under no-fault divorce, a spouse can file for divorce by declaring the marriage “irretrievably broken.”
That took some ugliness out of the process, but the adversarial system where lawyers fight for their clients can set things off on a bad foot, Weiss says.
“The court system is not set up for divorcing families,’’ he says. “It creates winners and losers. It becomes a contest, which is not helpful to resolving conflict.”
The recent adoption of collaborative law provisions in Washington state law shows a 180-degree turn from a system that once allowed for — and perhaps even encouraged — extremely adversarial divorce proceedings. In Texas, divorcing couples have had the option to use collaborative law for more than a decade now. And, as more and more states look to include a collaborative option for divorce, more articles like this inspiring Seattle Times article are possible.