Lawyer's Crusade: 

A Better Way to Break Up

There's another way, she says: a kinder, gentler divorce she hopes to make popular in Richmond. The process is called "collaborative law." It's similar to mediation, except that no single person is responsible for determining the outcome.

Spouses each get a lawyer to counsel and assist them during private, four-way meetings. In each meeting, Fauss says, the lawyers work together, listen to what the spouses say they want and try to get down to what they really need. A wife may demand the house, for example, saying she needs a place for her and the kids, when "what she's really saying is, 'I feel insecure,'" Fauss says.

Two to four meetings are usually enough to resolve problems, Fauss says. If the process doesn't work and the spouses choose to go to court, they're bound by contract to get new lawyers and treat the negotiations as confidential. And, she says, attorneys' fees for the collaborative process can cost half of what typical divorce litigation does.

First conceived in the 1990s, collaborative law has become popular in Northern Virginia but has been slow to take off in Richmond. (Perhaps we like messy divorces?)

On March 27 and 28, Fauss and the nine other members of the newly formed Collaborative Law Society of Greater Richmond are bringing trainers here to teach a two-day session that's required for any attorney who wants to practice collaborative law. The state doesn't regulate the practice, but the Virginia State Bar requires divorce lawyers to present their clients with alternatives to litigation.

Fauss rhapsodizes about the process, which she says was the reason she abandoned early retirement and decided to practice law again. "You're no longer the one who's attacking," she says. "You're not the gladiator. You're the peacemaker."

About 40 lawyers, most of them from Richmond, have signed up for the training session. "This is going to take off," Fauss says. "This year." S


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