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'Friendly' divorce movement gains ground

Looking to reduce the cost and emotional toll, more couples try 'collaborative' law to keep breakups out of court.

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After eight years of marriage, Joe and his wife decided to divorce.

The couple wanted the split to be as amicable and quick as possible, but their intertwined lives - which include two young children - had made it difficult.

They soon settled on joint custody of the kids, but their financial discussions were more contentious. That's when the couple decided to try a new form of divorce, using "collaborative law."

It essentially says that both parties, with the help of lawyers, psychiatrists, and accountants, agree to work toward the best solution for all involved. And because they never step foot in court, proponents of the concept say it reduces the emotional costs on everyone.

"Divorce is not a pleasant situation to begin with," says Joe, a Houston lawyer who preferred to use his first name only. "But collaborative law made the process as smooth as it could have been."

Now a new study in Texas shows that the process is saving time and money as well. Instead of a typical 18-month, $14,000 process through litigation, a collaborative divorce takes an average of 18 weeks and $9,000 to complete, according to recently released data by the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas.

Collaborative divorce is part of a growing legal movement, known as holistic or transformative law. It moves from an adversarial approach to a more healing or counseling approach to the practice of law - and practitioners and clients alike say they are much more satisfied at the end of the day.

The concept is especially important when it comes to divorce, which affects about one million children a year. In most cases, divorcing parents need to continue their relationship beyond the bounds of marriage. "If a couple has children, the legal end of a marriage is really just the beginning of a new relationship," says Peggy Thompson, codirector of Collaborative Divorce in Orinda, Calif., and a family psychologist.

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