Collaborative Divorce, Benefits To Children Essay

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There has long been concern about the detrimental impact of divorce on children. Although the research is inconsistent, there is evidence that children whose parents divorce may exhibit a wide range of poor adjustment outcomes compared to children whose families stay intact. The variability in research findings may largely be accounted for by the role of conflict. That is, it may not be divorce that is bad for children, but conflict between parents, which is associated with poorer outcomes for children across all developmental stages, regardless of whether or not parents separate.

What Is Collaborative Divorce?

In recognition of the negative impact of interparental conflict, the collaborative divorce movement arose in Minneapolis in 1991 to encourage a new type of divorce process. Collaborative divorce (also known as collaborative family law) is a philosophy that emphasizes win–win solutions. It is associated with particular alternative dispute resolution strategies such as mediation, four-way settlement conferences (involving both parties and their lawyers), and parental education. Collaborative divorce may infer a preference for shared parenting plans, although it is not synonymous with joint custody. Finally, collaborative family law approaches dictate a nontraditional role for family lawyers. In this context, lawyers coach their clients in communication and negotiation, and may help contain some of the adversity and hostility by helping clients focus on the best interests of the children. In some jurisdictions, family law practitioners sign agreements to confirm their commitment to collaborative practices and to avoid litigation at all costs. Indeed, a disqualification clause stipulates that the counsel could not represent their clients should matters progress to litigation. A related approach known as cooperative law includes emphasis on the same alternative dispute resolution strategies, but without the signed agreement to avoid litigation.

Benefits Of Collaborative Divorce

There is no doubt that when collaborative divorce works the way it was intended, children benefit greatly. Their adjustment tends to be better across a wide range of psychosocial and academic outcomes, and they maintain better relationships with both parents. These benefits are likely conferred in a number of ways. When parents are able to maintain a degree of civility and protect their children from overt hostility, children are prevented from the anxiety-provoking scenes that are characteristic of high-conflict divorce. Furthermore, they are able to benefit from the involvement of both parents in their lives without feeling torn by loyalty conflicts. In addition, collaborative divorce approaches tend to exact less of a toll (both emotionally and financially) on parents than a more adversarial process, thus leaving them with more resources to direct toward the well-being of their children.

Cautions About Collaborative Divorce

It recent years, clinicians and researchers have raised concerns about the overuse of collaborative divorce. Clearly, the collaboration, trust, and communication required between the divorcing parties for the approach to be successful cannot be attained by all parents. Of particular concern are high-conflict families and/or families who have experienced violence. In high-conflict cases, the trust and communication required for collaborative solutions are notably absent, and mental health and personality issues may preclude cooperation, in which case ongoing attempts at mediation and conferencing may simply prolong the conflict. In these cases the goal may be management of the conflict rather than resolution per se. In family violence cases, power and control may continue to be exerted by a perpetrator of violence during attempts at collaborative solutions. In addition, victims of violence may feel coerced into accepting arrangements that compromise their safety in an attempt to appear collaborative and cooperative. Thus, while collaborative divorce may be the best process for most families, there is a critical need for differentiated pathways for higher-needs families.


  1. Emery, R. E. (1999). Marriage, divorce, and children’s adjustment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  2. Johnston, J. R. (1999). High-conflict divorce. The Future of Children, 4, 165–182.
  3. Lande, J., & Herman, G. (2004). Fitting the forum to the family fuss: Choosing mediation, collaborative law, or cooperative law for negotiating divorce cases. Family Court Review, 42(2), 280–291.
  4. Wallerstein, J. S., Lewis, J. M., & Blakeslee, S. (2000). The unexpected legacy of divorce: A twenty-five-year landmark study. New York: Hyperion.

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