The Alaska Model for Collaborative Law

When I talked about the difference between Collaborative law and mediation, I talked about a team approach.  Within the team approach, there are several models that can be employed, but in Alaska, we predominantly use a six-way team model. This includes:

  • The two parties involved
  • Two attorneys (one for each party)
  • A mental health professional
  • A financial professional

However, we do, when necessary, involve third-party specialists who are, ideally, also certified in Collaborative law, like a child therapist, a substance abuse counselor, or an employment or budget planner.

What other models are there?

There are two other common models employed outside of Alaska’s six-way approach. The allied coaching model involves a mental health coach for each party, as opposed to a single mental health professional who neutrally coaches both parties and assists the other professional team members. The lawyer-based model is just that—it leverages an attorney for each party with no other professional team member.

What is the basis for Alaska’s approach?

Perhaps the best way to describe the foundation for the six-way model is by relaying Pauline Tesler’s analogy between Collaborative practice and whitewater rafting (Tesler is a family law specialist who pioneered the practice of Collaborative divorce):

Divorce is often fraught with deep emotional currents that arise from the couple’s patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors (historically and in the present). The dynamics between the couple play out on the surface (conscious level) and below the surface (unconscious level).

In Tesler’s analogy, the Collaborative team (including the clients) is rafting/navigating a river together. The couple’s apparent and clearly articulated challenges are the visible obstacles in the river that the team can navigate rather easily. The couple’s more latent or underlying challenges are those hidden obstacles that can have greater consequences when encountered. These threats are often the behaviors that confuse, halt or generally cause a lot of trouble in the Collaborative process (and really, any divorce proceeding).

When you look at this analogy, you can see that developing a “map” for navigating the couple’s emotional currents and using specialized tools to help stabilize the process are necessary for a successful journey. You need to have a plan for avoiding known obstacles and you also need to be prepared to proactively handle emergencies—so that when they arise, they are merely bumps along the way that don’t sink the boat.

When we involve several professionals in the process, we are ensuring the team sees the nuances of the situation that can and do make the process challenging. We have members of the group who facilitate an understanding of the conscious and unconscious factors at play. We also have members of the group who focus on the more technical/logistical aspects of a separation. Responsibilities are appropriately delegated and not one person bears the full weight. In this way, the boat is balanced, less likely to flip and better equipped to respond to punctures, tears and getting stuck.

Alaskans, in particular, know how a minor problem on unfamiliar waters can turn into a major catastrophe if we’re not prepared for it. We know what can lurk around blind corners or in deep brush. We also know that anything can happen, and usually when we least expect it. Collaborative law navigates clients in the troubled waters of divorce, separation and custody. The human emotional landscape requires attention and we need to be prepared for it so that we can make it to our intended destination: a settlement that makes sense for the entire family and protects the family from devastating emotional and financial harm.