Mediation and Collaborative Law
Greater New York Area
After law school, Andrea wanted to be a litigator and to work with people. Family law provided a forum to do both. She was attracted to family law after her own parent’s divorce which greatly impacted her life.
Andrea’s career has taken various twists. For 12 years, she practiced as a traditional divorce attorney working in both Saratoga Springs and Manhattan. After being laid off in 2004-something she now can say was the “best thing that ever happened to me”- Andrea started her own practice.
Around the time that she was laid off, Andrea learned about the collaborative law process at a Bar Association meeting. “It was like a light shone down on me”, she said, “this is my path!”. She went on to train in both the collaborative law and mediation processes. Soon after being involved in a particularly high conflict, litigated divorce, which took place in the months before and after her own wedding, she made the choice to stop litigating and to focus her practice on non-adversarial divorce processes. These include collaborative law, negotiated settlements and mediation, where Andrea works both as a mediator and as a consulting attorney during the mediation process.
Andrea explained about mediation vs. the collaborative process for divorce. In mediation, there is a mediator and both clients in the room together negotiating. She strongly recommends clients each have their own consulting counsel outside the mediation who helps you advocate for your own needs. As a mediator, she can explain the law but cannot represent either party individually. She feels mediation works best when both parties can advocate for themselves and they have common goals for their divorce.
In the collaborative process, your legal counsel is trained specifically in collaborative law. Attorneys and clients agree in advance that they won’t go to court by signing an agreement. In addition, they agree to treat each other respectfully and to do what’s best for the children. Both attorneys hear both sides and are trained to negotiate in a non-adversarial way.
The collaborative process involves a team approach to divorce. In addition to attorneys, other divorce professionals such as a financial expert who is neutral, and a collaboratively-trained divorce coach with mental health experience and training may all be involved throughout the process.
Andrea’s recommendations for reducing the pain of divorce:
- Find the right lawyer for you. Interview two to three lawyers that are trained in more than one process (not all lawyers practice all types of marital law). It’s a worthwhile investment.
- Use other professionals to help you through the process such as financial experts, divorce coaches or therapists. Your attorney is an expert in divorce law, not necessarily in emotional or complex financial issues.
- If you have goals for your divorce, make sure your attorney is aligned with you. For example, if your goal is to stay out of court, make sure your attorney agrees.
- “Don’t listen to the ‘Greek Chorus’! Everyone has an opinion. Say thank-you but they’re not you.” You may have a very different family situation than they do.
Andrea was a child of divorce. She experienced her parents very unhappy marriage for many years but it wasn’t until she was in college that her parents finally got divorced. She knows how hard it is to adjust to being in a family that is separated.
As we concluded our interview, Andrea stated with heartfelt conviction: “I really truly believe that I’m helping my clients have a better life post-divorce. All the people I work with are trying to make it better for them. Deep in my heart I want them to have better relationships with their spouses and to co-parent better. That’s why they come to me. It’s a more hopeful way to practice.”