Collaborative Divorce Comes of Age in Portland

At long last, Collaborative Law is finding its legs in Portland.

The number of professionals offering a non-adversarial option for divorcing couples is growing rapidly. There are an increasing number of lawyers, mental health professionals, child specialists, and financial planners specializing in collaborative law practice, including some of Portland’s most prominent family law attorneys.

Why the Growth of Collaborative Law?

The growth in Collaborative Law is a response to the number of people seeking an amicable process for divorce. Collaborative Law, like its mediation cousin, provides divorcing couples the opportunity to finalize their divorce without the polarizing war common in the traditional and adversarial family court system.

The Collaborative Law approach is thriving in many communities in the United States and around the world. The Collaborative Law model is widely practiced in Europe, Canada, and Australia. Collaborative Law has also spread nationally. On the West Coast, professionals in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego are providing a collaborative approach to divorce.

In Portland, the collaborative approach has experienced growing pains, but is set to emerge as a major alternative to the entrenched legal establishment’s mode of resolving divorces.

History of Collaborative Law in Portland

A history of Collaborative Law practice in Portland must start with a nod to Kim Gordon, who was far out in front of her colleagues.

Now offering collaborative mediation and helping couples find the right process for their family situation, Kim’s vision resulted in the first multi-disciplinary, multi-process approach for divorcing couples in Portland.

She has continued her work in co-mediations with highly respected coach and co-mediator Lee Hamilton, as well as with her new collaborative practice group, Portland Collaborative Divorce.

Kim Gordon & Michael Dwyer

In 2007 Kim and I asked nationally recognized collaborative trainer, Chip Rose of Santa Cruz, to provide two training sessions in Portland. Rose offered both an introductory training session and an advanced training session for the relatively small number of lawyers, mental health professionals, and financial planners who were involved in collaborative practice at that time.

Kim herself has provided collaborative trainings for many years, and she is now a certified by the International Association of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) to provide training that meets the IACP’s requirements.

Kim’s training led several attendees to form the first collaborative practice group in Portland.

Calling themselves Bridges to highlight the new, non-adversarial approach to divorce in Portland, this small band of attorneys, mediators, financial planners, and mental health professionals studied collaborative practice skills together and struck out bravely to offer collaborative services in a legal community that was largely hostile to this new approach.

Jim O’Connor, Dona Cullen, Lee Hamilton, Tonya Alexander, Forrest Collins, Gail Nicholson, and Randy Poff deserve lots of credit and our gratitude for their courage in striking out into this new area.

Attempts to Discredit Collaborative Practice

The established traditional legal community thrives on an adversarial system and has tried several strategies to undercut Collaborative Practice. Traditional family law practitioners proclaim they already practice “cooperatively” and settle most of their cases, so they don’t need to train in or adopt a formal Collaborative Practice model.

They fail, however, to recognize the problems produced by the traditional adversarial system, even when the attorneys make every attempt to avoid inciting conflict. They also fail to truly understand and appreciate the very specialized training and approach to conflict resolution that Collaborative Practice entails.

Some members of the traditional legal community are less kind. They have resorted to attacking the professionals offering Collaborative Practice. Their negative remarks run the gamut from comments on lack of competence and skill to a failure of nerve.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to hear comments like, “Well, after all, he couldn’t cut it in the courtroom.” These self-serving remarks show ignorance of the extraordinary sophistication required to negotiate durable settlement agreements that answer all of the clients’ needs, interests, fears, and concerns.

From Tradition to Collaborative Practice

Tom BittnerSome of our most honored litigation lawyers are making a successful transition to Collaborative Practice. Tom Bittner and Laura Rackner are two such attorneys. Tom is a partner in the Schulte Anderson firm. Laura is a partner at Gearing, Rackner Engel, and McGrath, LLP. 

Both attorneys are among the most honored family law lawyers in Oregon. Tom was recognized as one of Oregon’s Super Lawyers Top 50 Attorneys in the State of Oregon in 2010, has been named a Super Lawyer since 2006, and is a Martindale-Hubbell AV Rated Attorney. He has also been a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers since 2003.Laura Rackner

Laura was honored as one of Oregon’s Super Lawyers by Washington Law and Politics magazine. She has earned additional recognitions on Super Lawyers Top 25 Women and Top 50 Oregon Attorneys. She too is a Martindale-Hubbell AV Rated Attorney.

Despite their great success in traditional family law, Tom and Laura have undergone specialized training and now offer their divorce clients the option of divorce by Collaborative Law.

Tom and Laura’s experiences have led them to recognize the stressful and financial challenges for families in family law litigation. They believe that Collaborative Law offers clients a method of reaching meaningful and lasting agreements without the pressure and uncertainty of the court process.

The Portland Collaborative Divorce Group

Both attorneys, along with Kim Gordon and myself, are now members of Portland Collaborative Divorce. Along with other collaborative lawyers, our network of professionals includes highly esteemed mental health professionals and financial planners.

With this multi-disciplinary support for our clients, we can provide all the support they need to achieve what we might dare to call a “good divorce.”

Join Us at the First Collaborative Summit Symposium

The maturity of the Collaborative community will be on display on November 11, when we will hold our first Collaborative Summit symposium. Learn more about the symposium and then send an email to RSVP.

Entitled Charting Our Own Course, top-notch Collaborative professionals in Oregon and Washington will share with each other their collective experiences and wisdom in a series of educational Ted-Talk style presentations. Among the presenters will be Angela Laidlaw, the current President of the Oregon Association of Collaborative Professionals.

The Collaborative Law movement has endured some growing pains as it struggled to compete against the entrenched, traditional family law model. But the growth and momentum of Collaborative Law is now real and unmistakable. I believe it is here to stay.