There’s Only One Side in a Collaborative Divorce

As a Mediator and Collaborative attorney, I only work with clients who want to avoid court and resolve their issues themselves, on a mutually fair basis. This gives me a window from which to see and hear many interesting, touching stories of couples who are determined to be their best selves, while at the same time struggling with broken hearts, stretched finances and the many practical challenges of separating. Divorcing parents have the added task of managing their kids’ emotional adjustment to the family’s restructuring.

Here’s one impressive example I’d like to share:

In a Collaborative Divorce, each spouse has an attorney but agrees that neither lawyer will under any circumstances take the matter to court; if the process breaks down (which is rare), the attorneys are disqualified, and new litigation counsel must be retained. The Collaborative process looks and feels much like a co-mediated case, with the clients and both lawyers working together in group meetings as a “settlement team” to find the best possible win-win-win solutions for the family.

A while back, I was representing a wife in a Collaborative case with a very close colleague representing the husband.  Before we began, each spouse had developed some very beautiful goals to guide their work together. One of wife’s goals was that there would be no “sides” in the case, since she felt that everyone should be on the same side – that of caring for the whole family (especially their kids).

Our first meeting was at the other lawyer’s office, which has a rectangular table.  Husband was already seated on one side when we arrived. I sat across the table from him and wife sat down next to me.  After settling in, she then looked up, and realized that she was now on one side of the table, while husband was on the other. Without a word, she got up and moved across so that she could sit next to husband before we began our work. From that point on, the couple sat together for all of our team meetings. Wife had literally walked the walk to stick to her important family goal of avoiding taking sides.

This couple promised each other that they and their kids would always remain a family, now and in the years to come, despite their choice to divorce. That commitment required that, in addition to resolving their finances, these partners had to keep in mind this important relational piece of their work together. This sweet couple continued to hug, fist-bump, and occasionally bicker as they successfully worked through the issues of their separation and divorce in a series of team meetings. At the end, they laughed and cried in appreciation at what they’d accomplished together.

They taught me something very important:  In a family-centered divorce, there really, truly is only one side.  I’ll continue to share their important insight with all those I have the honor of helping divorce peacefully.


Jim O’Connor, Collaborative Attorney / Mediator
3939 NE Hancock St., Ste. 309
Portland, OR 97212

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