I Am a Collaborative Divorce Attorney

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Who am I? I used to answer that question with: I’m a Family Law Attorney. Most people at least thought they knew what that meant. Oh, you’re a divorce attorney. But when I tell people I am a Collaborative Divorce Attorney, they stop. They know it means something different; and so they ask, “What does that mean?” I now answer that question with pride. What is a Collaborative Divorce Attorney, you ask? Well, you see, I help people resolve their divorce peacefully without going to court. How do you that? I would love to explain.

Well, you see, I help people resolve their divorce peacefully without going to court. How do you that? I would love to explain.

My clients don’t want a stranger in a black robe to decide what their children’s lives will look like after divorce. They want to be the ones to make those decisions. So clients hire attorneys trained in the collaborative divorce process and we bring in a neutral counselor and a neutral financial professional to form a settlement team. With the help of this team, the clients determine the schedule that works best for their children and a way to divide their assets and liabilities so that they both are in the best financial position possible after the divorce. The clients have complete control over the outcome; their meetings are completely confidential; and they do it all without the stress, anxiety and negativity of courtroom hearings or a trial. Not to oversell it, the collaborative divorce process is hard work for clients. It may be harder in some ways than a litigation case because they can’t use their lawyers as multi-purpose swords and shields. But at the end of the day, they have the opportunity to walk away with a new set of tools for communication, self-care and children who are infinitely better prepared to deal with the reality of divorce.

I used to manage a heavy litigation docket, both in family law and non-family law cases. And while litigation in non-family law cases can be very fulfilling, I find that not to be the case in divorce.  The reality is that my work impacts entire micro-communities. Most importantly, it impacts children. It also impacts my client’s ability to find closure and move forward in life. My work impacts grandparents, in-laws, brothers, sisters and dear friends of my clients. It impacts teachers and school friends of the children of my clients. And so I have a choice: I can go to the courthouse and paint the other parent in the most negative light my own client’s anger and hurt will allow, thereby creating an earthquake of destruction in that micro-community; or I can empower my clients in their post-divorce world by helping to educate them about the finances they have never had to deal with, teaching them about the power of co-parenting in their children’s lives and creating the opportunity for a positive future with a newly reconstructed family. It will be a family of divorce; but it can be a post-divorce family built on respect for one another and on the love of children they created together. I am a Collaborative Divorce Attorney.

Rhonda Cleaves

Rhonda began practicing law in 1995. She left a successful civil trial practice in 2005 to concentrate on family law—specifically, helping families transition to postdivorce life. She now practices exclusively in this area.

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