Collaborative Practice Interview with Karen Fenchel

  1. What motivated you to become involved in collaborative law?

I have been trained as a mediator since 1995. I find that agreements are much more durable when negotiated by the parties rather than imposed on them by a judge. I enjoy helping people in a confidential process that they control.

In mediation there are times when one or both of the parties feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. In such a case one or both parties would be best served by the added support of their own legal advisor at their side.

When there are emotional and parenting issues, I have often involved a therapist.  In order to guide the parties to the best financial outcome, I have also used a neutral financial person.

For the above reasons, I obtained training in the collaborative process, an approach that uses a team to assist the couple. With training in both areas, I can guide clients as to the process that best fits their situation, whether it be mediation, collaboration or standard representation.

  1. Why do you like working on collaborative cases?

While the law is always in the room, I find that most couples look at what will work best in their individual situation. It is great to see divorcing couples take control of their own lives and arrive at outcomes that consider both of their needs and interests.

Because collaborative is a respectful and supportive process, people do not feel abused or taken advantage of. I had a collaborative case a few years ago, where the parties decided to reconcile after three collaborative team meetings and individual meetings with their coaches. The husband (not my client) told me that he was appreciative that I had proposed the collaborative process to his wife. That process provided an opportunity for them to work through their issues and understand that they should stay together. Their reconciliation was a result of the trust, respect, and support provided by the team to both clients.

I thoroughly enjoy working with the collaborative team. Both the attorneys and the parties gain from the expertise of the coaches and the neutral financial. The coaches guide the team when there are difficult conversations and emotional discussions. It is very helpful having a neutral person that is not on one side or the other.

  1. What is your role as a collaborative attorney?

I help couples communicate respectfully in order to create outcomes that support their family’s values and goals.

I serve more as a legal counselor who is there to support and advocate for my client while also focusing on the best interests of the family.

  1. What is the Collaborative Practice?

It is a client centered process that involves creative problem solving. The process is characterized by honesty, integrity, respect and transparency.  The focus in the collaborative case is on the needs and interests of the clients. A team approach, with the clients as part of the team, is used to help the couple work through legal, financial and emotional issues.

  1. Who is part of the collaborative team?

Both parties engage a collaborative attorney, an attorney trained in the collaborative process. The attorney will guide, educate and support the client, as well as working as part of the collaborative team.

Each party often has a collaborative coach. The collaboratively trained therapists assist the parties in communicating with each other and working on parenting plans and issues. Coaches help the parties to learn effective negotiating tools and manage their reactivity in this process.  Coaches can also help the clients in changing unsuccessful communication patterns. Improving communication will assist in more effective future co-parenting.

There is often a neutral financial person who assists in gathering financial information and in providing different scenarios for settlement of the issues. Because they are neutral, the financial participants help to create a safe environment for the clients to understand their own finances and make wise monetary decisions that benefit their family in the future. The financials meet with both parties together and assist their attorneys in integrating the information into the decision making process. The team, including the clients, work toward an outcome that supports the interests of all members of the family, including the children.

  1. How does the collaborative team arrive at agreement?

The professionals assist the parties in focusing on their hopes or goals.  The parties become educated and informed through gathering and exchanging information. The team explores a wide range of possible choices. The parties reach solutions that are acceptable to both of them.  Rather than court hearings, there are meetings where parties meet with their coaches, attorneys and neutral financial.

  1. What factors are relied upon in order to arrive at an agreement?

The team focuses on the interests and needs of the parties and their children. A sense of fairness as well as the parties’ past and future relationship are factors. The economic and practical reality is a consideration. Any prior oral or written agreements are part of the discussion. The parties’ customs, community and religious beliefs sometimes effect the agreement. The law is always there, but it is up to the clients how much they rely on it.

  1. What makes a couple a good fit for the collaborative process?
  • Parties who care about what happens to their spouse at the end of the process
  • Parties who are focused on what is best for their entire family
  • Parties who are appreciative of their spouse’s contributions
  • A high asset spouse who is open to being generous
  • A lower asset spouse who is willing to take less than the party feels they are entitled to
  • People who want their children to be in the center not in the middle
  • Individuals that feel comfortable being in the same room as their spouse and speaking for themselves with the assistance and support of the collaborative professionals
  • Those who wish to look back after the dissolution is final and feel good about the outcome and how they handled themselves during the process