Is Gwyneth Paltrow the unofficial spokesperson for collaborative family law?

November 7, 2014

Family law gavelThere’s a reason so many American companies use celebrities to endorse their products and services; it works. Whether we like to admit it or not, Hollywood’s elite influences the choices we make from the cars we drive to the food we eat.

So when Academy Award-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow announced this spring that she was “consciously uncoupling” from rocker Chris Martin after a decade of marriage, America was desperate to know more.

As it turned out, conscious uncoupling is a theory of ending a marriage in a blame-free and positive manner. Accordingly, Paltrow said that she and Martin would “remain separate” but would always “be a family” because of their two young children.

Just like the countless other times Hollywood has influenced Main Street, it’s likely that many other American couples could be interested in taking a similar approach to divorce in coming years. And while conscious uncoupling might be too new-agey for the masses, an alternative dispute resolution process called collaborative law might be just trendy enough.

Now widely referred to as Collaborative Practice, the process allows parties to settle family law matters outside of court with the help of trained lawyers and other professionals such as child and financial specialists.

After originating in Minnesota more than two decades ago, the practice has spread throughout the entire United States and many other counties around the world. The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals says the practice offers “a safe and dignified environment to reduce the conflict” of divorce.

Perhaps the most notable facet of Collaborative Practice — and one that makes some attorneys nervous — is that a participation agreement is signed by the parties and their lawyers at the onset stating that court is not an option. If the collaborative process fails, the parties must hire new representation to take them to court.

The purpose behind the participation agreement is to encourage both parties to put forth a good-faith effort in negotiating to reach a mutually acceptable settlement. Without the looming threat of eventually going to court, the parties remain focused on joint problem solving.

Additionally, lawyers need not worry about an ethical violation as numerous states as well as the American Bar Association have issued ethics opinions concluding that the collaborative process is ethically sound so long as clients have given informed consent to the limited scope representation.

Gwyneth Paltrow was the first major celebrity to announce that she was deciding to divorce with dignity, but she certainly won’t be the last — and the masses could be soon to follow. In order for family law attorneys to be ready for the trend, it would be wise to consider adding Collaborative Practice to their repertoires if they haven’t already.