OK, What's the Catch?

Eden Prairie Lawyer’s Divorce Process Sounds Too Good to be True

A collaborative divorce—what’s the catch?

“It’s a question I get once in a while, usually before I explain how collaborative divorce works,” attorney Steve Yasgur says, “and, actually, there is a ‘catch,’ if you want to call it that. And it’s simply that it’s harder for most people to wage peace than war.”

“Most of the prospective clients that consult me, honestly, don’t know what they don’t know. The biggest part of my job is to educate, to provide information. If couples knew that courts really don’t address the disrespect, the failed expectations, in some cases the betrayals, they wouldn’t come to me expecting I could get them ‘payback’ for those very real hurts.”

His actual role, Steve explains, is more challenging—and more rewarding!

He notes that divorce, in a very real sense, is family planning under very tough circumstances.

So, how do you do that? First, he says, a couple has to listen to each other. If they are to agree on what their divorce decree says, each of them will have important information for the other, and it’s a necessity to hear what their spouse says as information and not the start of an argument. Unfortunately, our culture today is frequently conflicted, so we often assume the first words we hear are laying the groundwork for criticism and argument.

How do you avoid that? Steve supports his clients with neutral professionals, such as a neutral coach. Coaches are all licensed psychologists who can point out how a couple’s communication style can be counterproductive. They can teach couples how to communicate neutrally or noncritically so that the listener actually hears the information. His “opposing counsel” will be another lawyer who has been trained in collaboration and is likely to be someone Steve has handled dozens of cases with, knows and trusts. If the couple is unsuccessful in reaching a final agreement, Steve and his colleagues must withdraw and cannot represent the clients in court.  

Steve says the highest priority of family court is guarding the children’s best interests.

“We know that parents almost always have better information about that than even the best judges,” he says.

When parents are supported by a licensed psychologist (separate from the coach) whose practice focuses on child development issues, they can do a better job of arranging their children’s futures and providing for their actual needs.

They use neutral certified divorce financial analysts—a financial industry certification—to lay out the couple’s debts and assets and show them any options they might have for dividing those. The goal is to make the family resources go as far as possible.

“My clients typically are shocked to learn they have complete legal authority to make their own decisions,” Steve says. “Most people think the divorce statute is a set of orders that have to be followed, regardless. I think family court judges would agree with me that this statute really is a safety net the legislature puts under couples who can’t come up with their own answers. When push comes to shove, and a judge must decide, … the statute instructs them how to make that decision.  They have real discretion in some of these areas, but in others, they do not.”

And finally, the central operating principle Steve works with is to make the entire experience a problem-solving exercise, rather than a “me against you” contest. You still have a family to take care of, he says, and it’s a lot easier to do it in peacetime than during war.