Currently, Tennessee does not have any particular certification for people who wish to hold themselves out to the public as Collaborative Divorce practitioners. If a Nashville attorney, financial, or mental health professional wishes to grow his or her practice, he or she is free to list Collaborative Divorce as a service on his or her website regardless of whether the professional has even the most basic training in the process and how it works.
Divorce is one of the most significant life events that people go through in Western culture. The process can be emotionally devastating and financially ruinous. When clients decide to use the Collaborative Divorce process, they often do so because they have bought into the premise that divorce is a life event that includes financial, legal, and emotional issues intertwined together, and that all three elements must be addressed one way or another. Such clients should have the right to expect the people they hire to help them navigate the complexities of divorce in the constructive and holistic way intended by Collaborative Divorce.
I discussed in an earlier post about how one of the biggest differences between Collaborative Divorce and traditional divorce litigation, at least as they are practiced in Middle Tennessee, is the philosophical framework. Litigation sees the divorce as a battle or competition whereas Collaborative Divorce sees the divorce as a crisis to be navigated for both clients and their children, if they have them.
A problem for clients arises when the client hires an attorney or other professional who tells the client they can help them with a Collaborative Divorce but the professional has never been trained in the process and/or has never represented anyone in a Collaborative Divorce. Such a professional may be looking for new business and thinks that Collaborative Divorce is simply a kinder, gentler form of litigation that uses the same basic toolbox, language, and philosophical framework as litigation.
But Collaborative Divorce is a fundamentally different animal than divorce litigation. The way the parties and professionals interact with one another is radically different, the way information is gathered and assessed are different, and the way clients work together (with advice) to make solid decisions in their divorce that takes into account all of the legal, emotional, and financial elements in the divorce is a far cry from putting on a case at trial and asking the Judge to make all of the decisions. In short, the whole process, from beginning to end, is designed to support the family through a crisis while litigation is designed to help the parties engage in a battle.
Clients interested in Collaborative Divorce should be careful to ask their prospective attorney about his or her training in the process. Has the professional attended at least a two-day basic training sanctioned by the International Association of Collaborative Professionals (IACP)? Was the training interdisciplinary, where the attorney learned to think of divorce as a life event and not just a lawsuit? How many Collaborative Divorce cases has the attorney worked? What percentage of the cases settled out of court using the Collaborative process? Is the lawyer active in the local practice group with other Collaborative professionals? How much continuing education has he or she completed that is specific to Collaborative Divorce?
It is often quite frustrating for clients (and professionals) to sign up to participate in a Collaborative Divorce only to find once the case takes off that one or more of the professionals really does not “get” what Collaborative Divorce means, trying to merge two inconsistent processes (litigation and collaboration) into one confusing, contradictory, and internally inconsistent process that misses out on the benefits of both collaboration and litigation.
For more information about Collaborative Divorce trainings, see the Institute for Family Conflict Resolution (IFCR) website.