How Collaborative Divorce Came to Southern California

By Joe Spirito

Collaborative Law written in a book next to a gavel.In 2000, collaborative divorce made its way from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where it was founded by Stu Webb, to Southern California. At the time, it was a promising idea that had started to gain some regional traction, but hadn’t been practiced in Southern California yet.

Collaborative divorce is a consensual dispute resolution process in which each spouse hires a collaboratively trained attorney, and commits to voluntary exchange of information and good faith efforts to settle without court. The process allows divorcing parties to find solutions that work for their families, without the limitations of the court system. Collaborative divorce also draws on the strengths of mental health professionals and financial professionals to help families resolve roadblocks to resolution. It encourages healthy communication and problem-solving, while keeping the family’s best interests at the forefront of the conversation.

How Collaborative Divorce Came to Southern California

In 2000, Kim Davidson, Esq. and David Kuroda, LCSW informed me that a collaborative training was coming to Scottsdale, Arizona. Long before Zoom and videoconferencing were popular, our Southern California professionals eagerly traveled to Arizona to learn about this exciting new process called collaborative divorce. After attending this training, I realized that in order to spread the word about collaborative divorce and the immense benefits it could bring to divorcing families, we had to get the bench and bar behind us.

I wrote to Judge Aviva Bobb, who was the Supervising Judge of Los Angeles County at the time, and shared the opportunity of introducing the collaborative divorce model to Southern California. She called me right away and invited me to her chambers to speak about it. Aware that collaborative divorce had recently made its way to Northern California, I also invited Judge Bobb to contact Judge Donna Hitchens, who was the Supervising Judge of San Francisco County,

to learn more about how Northern California was implementing collaborative divorce and how we could integrate it here in Southern California. Then and now, San Francisco has spearheaded the collaborative movement in California.

Impressed by what Judge Hitchens had shared with her about collaborative divorce, Judge Bobb wanted to learn more. During a meeting with Judge Bobb, Kim Davidson, David Kuroda, and me, we suggested that we put on a program in Judge Bobb’s courtroom, and Judge Bobb was on board! With the help of newly minted collaborative professionals, we developed an introductory collaborative program with the Los Angeles County Bar Association and South Bay Bar Association. Pauline Tesler, a pioneer of the collaborative process, and Nancy Ross, a mental health professional, came to this program to discuss “a highly effective team approach to divorce.” Over 100 people attended this flagship program.

After this introductory program, Judge Bobb drafted a letter, with some assistance from bar association leaders, to every litigant filing a petition for dissolution of marriage in Los Angeles County, making litigants aware that in addition to litigation and mediation options, they might also choose a collaborative divorce approach.

Soon thereafter, practice groups began forming all across Los Angeles County and beyond, and these groups remain active today.

A more peaceful, respectful divorce

Litigation is an adversarial approach to divorce that can create a lose-lose-lose situation. Often, litigation not only creates immense legal, financial, and emotional loss for both spouses, but for their children. Children are often hit the hardest in divorce.

In a collaborative divorce, the family unit comes out as the winner.  Each spouse’s attorney represents them, but in a non-adversarial way that allows the best outcome for each spouse.  A mental health professional can help with co-parenting impasses or emotional impasses.  A financial neutral can help with budgetary and financial needs by providing financial models for the future. The court system is limited in scope to what it can provide in these areas.   And frequently, collaborative divorce is a less expensive and more efficient process than litigation.

LACFLA members – caring since 2000

LACFLA members have been helping couples divorce in a more peaceful, private, and respectful manner since 2000.  If you are considering divorce, consider a collaborative divorce to help your family reorganize as peacefully as possible.

Joe Spirito, Jr. is a collaborative attorney and mediator who is well known in Southern California for his commitment to peacemaking and advancing collaborative divorce and mediation. He was one of Southern California’s first professionals to have embraced collaborative divorce 20 years ago, and has been exclusively doing collaborative divorce and mediation cases for over 10 years now.

Joe Spirito
116 Avenue I
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
(310) 465-1000

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