Divorce – It Doesn’t Have To Be A War!

Steven J. Rutlen CPA CDFA™ and R. Renee Steele, Ph.D.

Mention the word “divorce” and find no shortage of horror stories offered by family, friends and acquaintances--painful stories of drawn out legal battles, emotional and physical trauma, and financial devastation. Collaborative divorce offers an alternative to the divorce war.

The traditional legal process of divorce is by its nature adversarial – that is, husbands, wives and their attorneys working against each other with the ultimate objective of winning the war. Once invested in the battle, the couple relinquishes control of their futures to their attorneys and the courts. Threat of litigation becomes the leverage used by both sides to extract concessions and agreements. If agreements cannot be reached, decisions are conceded to a judge. The divorcing couple frequently feels a loss of control over themselves and their futures.

In recent years a new approach to marital dissolution has been gaining recognition as a better way to end a marriage. This new approach is referred to as collaborative law or collaborative practice. The collaborative approach is founded on the premise that marital dissolution can be accomplished in a non-combative manner with respect and dignity for both parties. It views divorce as a problem to be solved rather than a battle to be won or lost. With the help of collaboratively trained professionals, the divorcing couple will work together with the team to create shared solutions to all aspects of the dispute: emotional, legal and financial. The collaborative approach keeps the needs of the family securely in the spotlight and the decisions made solidly in their hands.

A key element of the collaborative divorce model is the couple’s voluntary agreement up front that they will not pursue divorce resolution via litigation. Another is the couple’s agreement that there will be open and full disclosure throughout the dispute resolution process. This open and full disclosure extends to all members of the collaborative team.

The collaborative team is comprised of a Family Law Attorney and a Communications Coach for each spouse, a neutral Financial Specialist, and a Child Specialist, if children are involved. All members of the team have specialized training in the interdisciplinary collaborative divorce process.

The Family Law Attorney informs his or her client of their legal rights and responsibilities, collects data, suggests and evaluates options, and assists the client in negotiating solutions. The attorney files the required documents with the court once the couple reaches final agreement.

Emotions and feelings run strong during the divorce process. The Communications Coaches help the couple make constructive rather than destructive use of the emotions that are present and frequently on overload during the divorce. The coaches help the couple establish open and honest communication that sets the foundation for effective negotiations and co-parenting now and into the future.

The interests of children are often overlooked during the divorce process. They do not understand why mom and dad are divorcing and often feel they may be partly to blame.

They need reassurance, information, and the opportunity to express their feelings. The Child Specialist provides this important support during the assessment process and, at the same time, helps parents learn what they can do to support their children’s needs during this difficult transition.

The neutral Financial Specialist is a CPA or a financial planner who is trained in the complex financial and tax issues that are present in all divorces. The Financial Specialist works jointly with the couple to educate them about the financial issues of divorce, assists them in assessing property settlement options, provides support and helps the couple address the future financial needs of the family.

Divorce ends a marriage but need not sever family ties or relationships. Especially when children are involved, lifelong responsibilities remain. By preserving respect and encouraging cooperation, collaborative divorce helps parents and children keep family bonds while embracing new lives. Divorce will always remain a significant life event. In the face of it, collaborative divorce can lead families to a compassionate ending, and a healthy new beginning.


Sacramento Collaborative Professionals Group (SCPG) is an organization of mental health, legal and financial professionals who support the team-based interdisciplinary collaborative divorce model of marital dissolution. For more information or to request a brochure, contact Coach Renee@RReneeSteele.com.