Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Minnesota 'An event instead of a tragedy'

St. Paul Pioneer Press


The Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota (www.collaborativelaw.org) was started here about 15 years ago by Minneapolis attorney Stu Webb. Today, less than 5 percent of the divorces in Minnesota are settled through collaborative law, a school of thought that, according to Hennepin County Family Court Judge Stephen Aldrich, "is making the divorce process an event instead of a tragedy."

According to the group's Web site, collaborative law's values are:

• A focus on solutions that meet the needs of the entire family.

• Recognizing that relationships need to continue after the marriage ends.

• Making decisions that mitigate the impact of divorce on children.

• Developing a "future focused" strategy rather than dwelling on the past.

• To work together respectfully, honestly and in good faith.

But what is attracting a lot of couples to collaborative law is its focus on reducing the impact of divorce on children. As a result, many collaborative law cases result in joint physical custody, a statistical anomaly in Minnesota when divorce is litigated through the courts.

"Sometimes it's just labeled a 'parenting plan,'" said Ousky. "Whatever it's called, it gets parents away from the formulas and guidelines that can trip them up."

There have been collaborative law cases that have resulted in sole physical custody being given to one parent, "but not usually," Ousky said.

"They typically don't want one person identified as the sole custodial parent because they come into it understanding that the kids need both parents to be actively and amicably involved."

"I've litigated for 20-some years and my top-five adversarial clients — the very best and easiest — are probably less satisfied than the average collaborative law client."

And judges like it, too.

"They've been very supportive of it," said Ousky. "Most judges tell clients that they're better off making their own decisions, which is what they're doing in collaborative law."

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