Former Justice Kourlis saw the same thing:
The couple would start the process relatively conciliatory, and by the time they got to a final orders hearing, they were fighting about everything. That was my first clue to the fact that imposing an adversarial system built for civil disputes on a family in one of the most stressful, grief-ridden times of their life was just a complete mismatch
I don’t see lawyers as the problem, only a reflection of an underlying adversary system that is falling from grace. The Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families (RCSDF) is something new, both nationally and for Colorado. It has just been featured in the ABA Journal, and my take-home message number one is to read the article!
RCSDF is a program that gets to the heart of the issue by offering a non-adversarial system. Located on the University of Denver’s campus, RCSDF has a non-adversarial model yet it allows for families to go through the dissolution process with the support of professionals versed in law, psychology, and social work. Services from a financial advisor are also offered. Moreover, the program has an on-site judge to finalize each case without anyone having to enter a courthouse. For couples disposed towards settlement, this seems to be a welcome solution.
Even the proponents of RCSDF would concede that this process not for everyone, and especially not for couples disposed to fight, or for couples with a history of domestic violence, however RCSDF does look promising for the rest of us.
So, why is a trained mediator blogging about RCSDF? Because forty hours of mediation training is required of all the interns who staff the RCSDF program. Fundamentally, this is the approach you would expect from a program that does not offer adversarial legal representation to its clients. Mediation skills are effective!
For everyone not lucky enough to be within an easy drive of RCSDF consider centering the resolution of your family case upon professionals with mediation skills. I have always seen that clients adore their own lawyers, and if you already have counsel, keep them. However, think early and often about using a mediator’s services to help keep things settlement focused. This can help stop things drifting apart when the lawyers do their job of counseling each side as to their own interests.
If one or both of you are going through a domestic relations case without a lawyer, but want some legal help, you can use so called “unbundled legal services” to obtain advice. These services are a way of gaining a lawyer’s advice while keeping you in charge of how much legal advice you consume. With unbundling, it is the client who can set the overall strategy.
Like the RCSDF program, you can also mix and match other professionals into your case, as you need them, e.g. by bringing in a CPA or other financial expert. Perhaps all you need is a financial planner and a mediator to help you craft an agreement, with some advice at the end of the day from a lawyer who can review final documents. RCSDF may be the way of the future, but if you can’t wait for the glacial pace of system change, and you need help now, then try mediation – that is my take-home number two.