Divorce Seattle (nice) style: She's in the business of breakups - with a twist

Stefani Quane's office looks nothing like the stereotypical lawyer's office. Instead of sleek leather chairs and a glass desk, Quane offers her clients soft, comfortable chairs in an older house painted a cheery yellow. It's hard to imagine, settling onto the couch and petting her giant German shepherd, that Quane deals with people every day who may be going through the most bitter or difficult event of their lives: divorce.

Yes, Quane, otherwise known as "The Lawlady," is in the business of breakups, but with a twist. Quane practices collaborative law, a relatively new approach to handling divorces.

Collaborative divorce is based on the principle that the couple will handle their divorce out of court, without hiding assets (money, property, etc.) or going through bitter legal proceedings. Instead of making divorce a secretive process, going the collaborative route requires each person to be transparent and work toward a civil ending.

Each member of the couple has his or her own lawyer, and these lawyers meet with the couple in a series of four-way meetings that aim to sort out financial assets, child custody and any other relevant areas. The couple signs a waiver at the beginning of the process stating that if the process moves to court, the lawyers will no longer be involved. In other words, if the couple can't keep it out of court, the lawyers "drop out" of the case.

"The collaborative lawyer does two jobs," Quane said. "He or she is the lawyer as well as the mediator. We inject diplomacy so the two people can break out of the spots that can usually get people stuck."

Quane has been practicing law for 16 years, but started working in the area of collaborative divorce about four years ago.

"I figured out the litigation process doesn't fit with family law," she said. "[The divorce process] is always hard enough, and the litigation process can be really scary."

Robert Lane agrees. He used Quane's services for his divorce, and says taking the collaborative approach was beneficial in helping his divorce move along in a positive way.

"I was intrigued by the way [Quane] explained what collaborative divorce was," Lane said. "She helped take a lot of the anxiety and stress that I had going into it out. That's priceless."

Quane explained that though collaborative divorce is relatively new to Washington, the process itself has been around for a while. Quane helped co-found Washington Collaborative Law, an organization that not only explains how collaborative divorce works, but also can help couples find lawyers who will participate in collaborative cases (www.washcl.org). Quane estimates that about 50 lawyers have aligned themselves with the process. She also stresses that couples can go to any lawyer and ask to use a collaborative approach.

In order to help couples through all parts of a divorce, Quane works with other professionals to provide additional services people may need. These might include a financial analyst, business appraiser, parenting evaluator, mortgage broker or real estate agent, as well as a vocational counselor, who can help find work if one of the people is unemployed.

In addition to the "softer approach" that defines collaborative divorce, many couples find it to be cheaper. The process can save couples money by avoiding costly motions that can plague the traditional litigation process. Money Magazine reported that collaborative divorces could save couples between 40 and 65 percent. In addition to saving money, couples may experience a speedier divorce because of the emphasis on all parties providing information about financial assets.

"In the collaborative process, if someone says they will get something for you, they usually do in the next week or two. Add up a lot of those, and you can see where it can be much cheaper and faster," Quane explained.

A main component of collaborative divorce is that the couple spends a lot of time figuring out who gets what, and the lawyers are there to provide guidance.

Jane (not her real name) was a client of Quane's when she went through her divorce several years ago.

"My ex and I spent a lot of time talking on our own, then referring to our lawyers for questions," Twill said. "I also had Stefani come in when we had a financial meeting."

Lane agrees that Quane was able to help he and his ex through the areas that had the potential to become contentious and confusing.

"It took us awhile to go through the process," Lane said. "Stefani helped keep it going and from deteriorating. She led us to a satisfactory resolution."

Bridget Borud is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.[[In-content Ad]]