Nancy Cameron

Collaborative divorce lawyer

January 2, 2009

By Shannon Smart

How does collaborative divorce law differ from the traditional model?
My focus is on moving clients toward a comfortable resolution for them both without involving a judge—an out-of-court approach. Before, I found it difficult that I couldn’t do anything about the conflict between my clients and their partners; in fact, my job usually meant increasing that conflict. This way is better for my clients, and for their kids. And for me, too.

Have you ever gone through a divorce?
Twice. And none of the options I had at either time offered advocacy in a nonconfrontational, supportive environment. I would have been very grateful if collaborative divorce had been around, particularly because both my divorces involved children.

Are kids the main impetus for collaborative divorce?
More and more relationships involve two individuals with incomes, so divorcing couples without kids can simply take a calculator and divide by two. When children are involved, however, there’s more need to look at what is important to each partner, which allows for a new kind of relationship between the divorcing partners; certainly this can be beneficial for their kids.

Do your clients often revert to litigation?
Parties agree at the outset not to go to court. That said, often clients and their partners are in very different places, and that’s a big part of my work: making sure everybody is emotionally ready.

Who’s best suited to this process?
Both partners need to be honest and willing to negotiate, and they need enough self-awareness to articulate what’s important to them in the settlement. The process relies largely on the couple for resolution, with lawyers building in support when times get rough. I’ve recently been named president of the International Association of Collaborative Professionals, which provides a network of collaboratively trained financial advisers and mental-health professionals to help clients and their families as they go through what, for many, is the most difficult period in their lives.

Are other areas of law moving toward a collaborative model?
In collaborative divorce as well as mediation agreements, the divorcing couple has a degree of control that they lose in the court system, where control is in the hands of lawyers. Where possible, people are now accessing the judicial system on their own, and nonadversarial resolutions are coming up more frequently in civil disputes where the principles of collaborative law—which involve de-escalating the conflict and focusing on resolution—translate well. People in conflict don’t need courtroom confrontation. They need support.

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