Thacker Sleight You focus most of your practice on collaborative divorce. Can you briefly explain what the collaborative process is all about, and how long you’ve been practicing collaborative divorce?
Barbra Collaborative divorce is a relatively new divorce process in the state of Michigan. I practiced collaborative divorce well before Michigan’s adoption of the Uniform Collaborative Law Act in December 2014. Collaborative divorce provides couples with a non-adversarial process to divorce, that uses the expertise of several divorce specialists, including a therapist (divorce coach) and financial specialist. Each participant in the process is represented by his/her attorney, who has been collaboratively trained. Collaborative divorce is for couples who want more control over their settlement, more creative options, and those individuals who would like to avoid the uncertainty and expense of traditional divorce litigation. The priority for most couples in this process is to ensure the divorce itself does not damage their relationship going forward, and also to minimize the impact of the divorce process on their children.
TS What are some advantages of a collaborative divorce, and do you think it will continue to be more mainstream in the future?
BH The primary advantages of the collaborative divorce process are allowing creativity in the settlement. With collaborative divorce, all professionals are committed to settlement and are uniquely trained to generate options that are more likely to lead to mutually agreeable solutions. The divorce coach, usually a licensed therapist, has the expertise to deal with different personalities and communication barriers that are often the reason for the divorce itself. Also, one financial specialist works directly with the couple, applying their collaborative training, to arrive at settlement options for the financial aspects of the divorce. The goal of all collaborative professionals is to learn “why” a person is taking a position. This type of “interest-based” negotiation leads to far more satisfying settlements than traditional divorce. Finally, because collaborative divorce follows a specific structured format, it is a process where some more experienced collaborative attorneys, including myself, can offer clients a flat fee option for the divorce itself. Collaborative divorce is for couples who want to divorce different—they want to divorce smarter; this is the reason it will continue to grow as one of the best divorce options in Michigan.
TS When did you first become interested in law, and why did you decide to focus your practice on collaborative divorce?
BH When I attended school at the University of Arizona, I originally planned to practice medicine. I later changed course and had the opportunity to work as a Securities Paralegal with Jackson National Life when my husband and I moved to Michigan, where he attended law school. I later decided to enroll at Michigan State’s law school and eventually graduated Summa Cum Laude. I had previously worked in family law before moving to Michigan and loved this practice area because I represent people, and I like to help individuals navigate likely the most difficult times of their lives – divorce. I have always practiced exclusively in family law since graduating from law school in 2003. After many years of high conflict divorce litigation, I wanted a process that does not drive couples farther apart. Traditional divorce is costly. The collaborative process is unique in that with the assistance of the divorce coach; many couples learn essential tools that help them co-parent after the process finishes.
TS Was there anyone along the way who mentored or influenced your work?
BH I have been influenced by many incredible professionals and clients throughout my career. I learned that although traditional divorce litigation is often the only course for some couples, collaborative divorce is a good option for many – but it takes a particular skill set from the collaborative professionals involved. Not all attorneys can practice collaborative divorce.
TS What qualities of Thacker Sleight led you to join the firm?
BH Thacker Sleight has built a strong brand in a short time as a premier law firm. Thacker Sleight is a specialized boutique firm, with several family law practitioners. As such, it can take advantage of quickly changing technology to better serve its clients and is structured specifically to service family law clients and their unique needs. Large, full-service law firms have a different support structure that works across many different practice areas, even if that structure is not ideal for family law clients. Joining Thacker Sleight was an easy decision because my collaborative divorce practice offers Thacker Sleight clients another option to divorce beyond traditional litigation.
TS What is one of your proudest moments, inside or outside your career?
BH My proudest moment was completing a collaborative divorce for a young couple, who had two small children (1 and 3). There were tears. The process was hard. Ultimately though, I knew this couple would be able to work together for the next 17 years (and beyond) to parent their children. They chose the collaborative divorce process, which can be hard emotionally at times because each parent knew that the in the long term, their relationship would be better, and they would be able to co-parent in a child-focused way. One parent had lived first hand through a high conflict divorce when her parents divorced. You could see the scars she still had from that process as an adult. Listening to her, and her experience as the child of divorce, and also as a parent who is divorcing was eye-opening.
TS What one thing would you like people to know about you?
BH Divorce is very difficult for families, especially children. I believe in empowering people in the divorce process so that they ultimately reach decisions that they control. I think couples should focus on divorcing differently. They should divorce smarter, and we can help them with a collaborative, cooperative process rather than conventional litigation in the court system.