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If a mental health professional devised a pain and suffering index for legal matters, family law litigation would be at the highest end of the scale for beleaguered spouses and their stressed-out lawyers. Divorce places slightly below the death of a spouse or a child as a traumatic life event. Since any type of litigation is stressful for the clients, combining the termination of a marriage with temporary hearings, restraining orders, depositions, written discovery, endless nasty letters and acrimonious meetings is too much for many divorcing couples. Studies confirm that the damage is not limited to warring spouses � profound negative effects have been documented in children who are subjected to the pain of their parents’ litigation. Dallas attorney Louise Raggio, one of the nation’s pre-eminent family lawyers, recently stated, “I have been called a successful family law �trial lawyer’; ironically, I have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into every trial because I knew in my heart that litigation would destroy the fabric of the family.” Not surprisingly, the attorneys who provide family law litigation services are themselves victims of the system in which they work. In a profession where dissatisfaction and despair (as well as alcoholism, drug abuse and clinical depression) are at an all-time high, family law practitioners are among the most frustrated. Most family lawyers went into the field because they wanted to be healers, peacemakers and creative problem solvers for people in distress. Unfor-tunately, many of these well-meaning attorneys now feel trapped in a system that traumatizes the people they want to help � their clients. Although not a panacea or appropriate in every case, collaborative family law provides a more holistic, therapeutic and humane method of dissolving marriages and resolving other family disputes. This model, devised by attorney Stuart Webb of Minneapolis in 1990, has one essential feature that gives it great power: The spouses and their attorneys enter into a “participation agreement” wherein they agree that the case will be resolved outside the traditional litigation model, e.g., they contract that they will not go to court. CREATIVE MODEL The attorneys agree that if the case is not resolved in collaborative settlement conferences, they will withdraw and the clients will retain litigation counsel for the trial. The provision that the attorneys must withdraw provides tremendous incentive for the spouses and their lawyers to work cooperatively and creatively toward settlement. This is the only family law model in which the attorneys share the risk of failure with the clients. In the litigation model, if the divorce case does not settle in informal settlement conferences or mediation, the attorneys earn additional fees by trying the case. In the collaborative model, the attorneys who fail to settle the case are out of a job, and the clients must incur the additional expense of hiring new lawyers to litigate. These strong penalties for failure result in a creative synergy among the parties that is usually capable of overcoming any impasse. The vehicle for the collaborative case is a series of four-way settlement meetings between the spouses and their attorneys. Financial records and other information necessary to a full and fair discussion of the issues are voluntarily provided without the necessity of formal discovery. However, one feature of the litigation model is retained for the protection of the parties: each spouse is usually required to sign a sworn inventory and appraisement of their assets and liabilities. “Hired gun” experts who are the bane of the litigation model are not used in the collaborative system. Neutral mental health and financial experts are frequently employed jointly by the spouses for specific issues. Avoiding the expensive clash of opposing experts is a major cost-saving aspect of collaborative family law. When the parties reach an agreement, it is incorporated into a decree of divorce and proved up in the same manner as a traditional divorce case. The client emerges with an enforceable judgment as in the litigation model. However, the process by which it is obtained is much less painful, both emotionally and economically. According to a recent article about the collaborative family law “revolution” in Lawyers Weekly USA, “legal fees are one-tenth to one-third of what they are in a typical divorce. Nonetheless, lawyers report no drop in their income because they have a higher volume of cases [and] because satisfied clients make referrals.” Collaborative family law has gained immense popularity across the nation and has been introduced in Texas by the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas, a nonprofit corporation co-founded by the authors. The mission is to transform the practice of family law into a process that resolves family disputes in a manner that maximizes the emotional, financial and spiritual health of the family. In furtherance of this mission, the institute conducted the first Texas training seminar on collaborative family law in Dallas on Jan. 6, 2000. The training was provided by Stuart Webb, the founder of collaborative family law, and Pauline Tessler, one of the most successful practitioners in this field. Sixty Texas family lawyers and judges participated in the first seminar and were immediately “hooked” by the power of this process. Family lawyers from Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin and other areas responded enthusiastically and returned to their respective cities to form collaborative family law practice groups. The purpose of a practice group is to unite like-minded lawyers who have been trained in the process. The members of the groups develop forms and practice aids and cross-refer cases to other members in whom they have confidence. Due to the strong demand by Texas lawyers, the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas has scheduled another training seminar for Nov. 16, 2000, in Houston. Presentations providing an introductory overview of this model will also be included in the Advanced Family Law Course in August. Obviously, the collaborative model is not suited for every family law matter. Cases involving hidden assets, fraud on a spouse or domestic violence may still require litigation. Nevertheless, it is recommended that all clients be made aware of the collaborative option. In addition to the benefits to clients, this model gives lawyers the opportunity to do what they started out to do when they entered family law � facilitate healing and assist people through dark periods of their lives with creativity and compassion. A number of Texas lawyers are now practicing collaborative family law and many have found renewed joy in their work. As recently stated by prominent Houston family lawyer Donald Royall, “The collaborative concept brings new life to a part of my practice that I had all but abandoned as doing more harm than good to myself as well as clients.”

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