Years of effort led by the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law community paid off on June 28, 2018, when Governor Wolf signed into law the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law Act.  The new law creates a uniform standard of procedure and practice in Pennsylvania for parties opting to proceed with collaborative divorces.  The purpose of the law is to make the legal process of collaborative divorce more uniform across Pennsylvania.

Collaborative Law is a method of dispute resolution which some divorcing parties opt to engage in, requiring both of them to sign a participation agreement to stay out of court.  The process  was created by Stuart Webb, a Minnesota attorney who sought a method that would permit divorcing parties to retain decision-making and control over the complex yet often emotional decisions regarding their divorce, including separation of assets, custody of their children and financial support.
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I read in a Fox News article a few weeks ago that Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband, Chris Martin, attended a party together, even though they have publicly announced their separation, which they have referred to as “conscious uncoupling”.  When the pair announced that they were “consciously uncoupling”, there seemed to be a lot of public questions (and skepticism) about what this is, and, if it exists, whether it can be accomplished successfully.  I, too, raised an eyebrow, wondering why it is headline news and why any of us care what happens between them in the privacy of their own relationship. In part, the story generated so much interest because of the use of the term uncoupling in place of divorce.

The term and idea of the “uncoupling” of married people is one that I have heard used in collaborative divorce cases.  In my experience, many people are drawn to collaborative law because they desire to end their marriage and resolve their economic issues in a process and a timeframe that they control together. Generally, they value what’s left of their relationship with their spouse, namely the joint parenting of children and often, that reason is their primary factor in selecting collaboratively-trained counsel to assist with the divorce. Collaboratively-trained professionals, particularly coaches and therapists, refer to the term “uncoupling”, as a way for both spouses to envision themselves moving forward with their lives, independent of each other.  Because the collaborative process is based on the parties’ development of their individual needs, concerns and interests, it necessarily requires them to think about their future and how their financial settlement and parenting plans will be structured to enable them to achieve that.


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In February 2012, Julie Miller was appointed to the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Collaborative Law Committee. The committee’s purpose, according to its mission statement, is to “address current issues regarding the collaborative law dispute resolution process; educate attorneys and the public about the collaborative law dispute resolution process; recommend standards of practice for attorneys using

It’s that day again, one of the most difficult holidays for those facing or going through the process of a divorce: Valentine’s Day.

A recent study has revealed a 40% increase in divorce filings around Valentine’s Day in the past two years. For those experiencing the season of upheaval of divorce, the holiday has nothing to do with roses and candy.   Most in this situation have gone beyond asking the question "Is my partner right for me?" and are now asking, "What am I going to do next?" Luckily, for some there is another question to be asked, one that can help alleviate some of the stress of the usual divorce process: is collaborative divorce the right choice for me?

Many divorce clients have described feeling trapped in their situations, as if they have lost control. Court dates and conflict become the new norm, and it seems that their lives and those of their children are at the mercy of the system.

The collaborative process can make some of the toughest parts of divorce a little easier. (See Collaborative Divorce: A Different Way to Divorce). The factors below will help determine if you and your spouse are good candidates for divorce using the collaborative model. If you find yourselves in any one or more of the following categories, you may want to consider moving forward collaboratively:

  • You wish to protect your children and your family from the harmful effects of a high-conflict dispute.
  • You and your spouse will be co-parenting together and want to establish the best co-parenting relationship possible for the future.
  • You value privacy in your personal affairs and do not want the details of your family restructuring to be available on the public court docket.
  • You and your spouse have a circle of friends and family in common that you both want to remain connected to.
  • You value control and autonomous decision-making and do not want to hand over decisions about restructuring your financial or child custody arrangements to a judge. 
  • You understand that conflict resolution involves achieving not only your goals, but finding a way to achieve the reasonable goals of the other person.


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When it comes to divorce, there are multiple ways for parties to arrive at an agreement. Occasionally I am asked by clients to review a marital settlement agreement that was reached as a result of a mediation conference. There are also occasions when clients come to an initial meeting with me and ask the difference between mediation and Collaborative Law. Although there is an increasing awareness of both alternatives, it is still common to get elements of the two processes confused. In order to distinguish more clearly between the two, especially for those who may be interested in pursuing either as an alternative route in their divorce, the following is my explanation in a nutshell.

In mediation, an impartial third party, who acts as the mediator, assists the parties with their negotiations and tries to help them settle their dispute. The mediator does not have to be an attorney and cannot act as an advocate for either side or give either party legal advice. In other words, if an agreement contains terms that are grossly unfair to one party, the mediator may not recognize them and, even if he or she does, is not permitted to give legal advice about the issue or any other issue. If both parties have attorneys who are not present at the mediation, they are free to contact them for advice in between mediation sessions. However, when the attorneys are not present during mediation, they are essentially unable to give their clients legal advice throughout the ongoing negotiations. Once an agreement has been reached between the parties, the mediator will typically prepare a draft of it for review and comment by the parties and attorneys before it is signed.


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A few weeks ago I watched a program on ABC Primetime called "Divorce Without Separation", about an Arizona couple who chose to live together while they were divorcing. I know some couples choose to live together while they work out the intricacies of their divorce but, in my experience, it is not common. Since I don’t often run into couples who choose to live together during a divorce, I found this show especially interesting to see how this particular couple worked through the divorce process under those circumstances.

The couple chose to use mediation to resolve equitable distribution, support, alimony and custody issues. It appeared that they each retained a lawyer to review the terms of their Postnuptial Agreement and the decisions about how to divide their assets were done with a skilled mediator whose office, interestingly, was situated inside a legal office.


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Meeting with a lawyer for the first time about a divorce can be overwhelming for a number of reasons. Obviously, clients most likely are experiencing emotional trauma over the loss of their relationship and uncertainty about their future. Navigating the legal intricacies of the divorce process adds yet another element of uncertainty to the situation. For a client who is unfamiliar with the legal process, learning about options and discussing ways in which to proceed during the most stressful  time of their life can be confusing. However, it is a critical meeting — one at which the lawyer can assess the client’s situation and priorities, and one at which the client can become comfortable with the lawyer.

Clients often have no idea what to expect from the initial consultation. At the very least, I believe that the client should leave my office that day knowing that he or she has choices, that there is no "one size fits all" method for divorcing, and that I have some understanding of the issues their case will present. In developing an understanding of the issues, it is necessary to have information about the nature of the parties’ marital estate, including their assets and liabilities. It is particularly helpful if clients bring along the following documents when they meet with me for the first time to discuss their divorce:

  • Copies of their most recent Federal Income Tax Return, including W-2s, 1099s and schedules.
  • Copies of recent paystubs.
  • A copy of all recent mortgage and/or home equity loan statements, for all properties owned; if a home is in foreclosure, a copy of the most recent Act 91 Notice.
  • Recent statements for all investment and retirement accounts, including 401(k)s, IRAs and pensions.
  • Recent bank account statements.
  • Annual income statements from the Social Security Administration.
  • Information regarding the value of any business interests.
  • Documentation of loan balances, credit card debts or outstanding medical bills 


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Most divorce cases require the use of outside experts to assist with the valuation of marital assets, including real estate, retirement accounts or a family business. The collaborative process is not any different in that those values still need to be obtained in order to negotiate an appropriate settlement that takes into account the needs