The Burke Law Group, PLLC
Old City Hall Building
221 N. Wall St., Suite 624
Spokane, WA 99201

Main Office: (509) 466-7770
Collaborative Law: (509) 999-6747

Collaborative Law

Nobody wants a divorce war.  That implies injury to each other, and a winner and loser in a family dispute where, in reality, no one can truly win.  That is the foundational premise of Collaborative Law, a concept that has spread throughout the nation and internationally over the last 24 years. You do not need to be in agreement with your spouse or other party; that is rarely the case.  The collaborative law process is designed to help identify solutions to the problems and issues that typically accompany a divorce. 

The Collaborative Law process offers a high degree of confidentiality to your divorce, keeping private virtually all aspects of your relationship and financial situation.  It also provides you with a process where your can safely express your concerns, wishes and desires for consideration and inclusion in the overall solution to the dissolution of your marriage.  And it provides a means to focus on what is truly best for your children, eliminating any reason for posturing or accusing the other parent of being a lesser parent then he or she truly is.  If there is a business or professional career to be protected, the Collaborative Law process provides a way to sensibly and reasonably address these otherwise contentious areas.  Finally, the Collaborative Process eliminates the need to ever enter a courtroom; the reason is that the spouses, not the court, are the ones who make all the decisions.  And with both spouses being individually represented by their own collaboratively trained attorney, neither spouse can dominate the other, thus the solutions and agreements that make up the final divorce terms are fair and balanced.

Collaborative Law was initially the brainchild of a Minnesota attorney, who in 1990 concluded that there had to be a better way to help clients through troubling family changes, often divorce, with specific attention to the goals and interests of both parties as they develop the foundation of their changing relationship. This is especially critical when minor children are involved.  It has been proven that the more stable and intact the family ties, the healthier it is for the children as they transition to a situation where the parents are no longer together.  Traditional divorce litigation tends to attack whatever family ties may still exist (thus the "divorce wars"), whereas collaborative law tries to build upon the ties, and make them stronger for the benefit of all involved.

Collaboration involves a team approach to resolving cases based on interests rather than power, to help you discover the BEST solutions. The team may be you and your spouse plus your respective collaborative attorneys, or might also include a financial specialist, a communication facilitator/coach, and/or a child specialist.  The Collaborative team will work to help both spouses to plan the financial division and level of financial support that best meets your needs and goals, and to help you develop a plan to effectively co-parent your children.

Contrary to what some might think, the Collaborative approach is not just for amicable couples. It is actually a highly effective method for managing conflict. However, a Collaborative approach is not right for every client. For Collaborative Practice to be fully effective, even though you are getting a divorce and may have a contentious relationship, you need to have some empathy towards your spouse and what their situation will be post-divorce.  You need to be genuinely interested in finding solutions that work for your spouse as well as for you, and you must be committed to working through the process with your spouse.  Significant use of alcohol or drugs (whether prescription or otherwise) that affect a person's ability to make thoughtful decisions could be an indication that the Collaborative Law process is not an appropriate alternative.  If there is any history of significant physical or emotional abuse, your Collaborative Law attorney will need to fully consider the situation to determine whether both parties can be kept safe through this process, and whether they each will be able to make decisions based upon their personal interests and goals and not be adversely influence by those of the other party.  This work can be difficult, but your professional team will be there to support you through every step.

One benefit of resolving things outside of court is preserving relationships. As has often been stated regarding divorce and parenting, the divorce is the end the relationship of husband and wife, but not the relationships of father, mother, and children. It is those relationships of father, mother, and children that need to be protected to the extent possible so that the children can continue with healthy relationship with each parent. Even where there are no children involved, many people want to end their marriage in a reasonable and respectful way that will allow them to look back on their divorce as a time of positive change, a life transition point, rather than the most horrible experience of their lives.

A brief outline of the collaborative process is:

  • both parties have their own attorney who advises and advocates for them, with a focus on their client desire's based up individual goals and interests.
  • both attorneys will have had extensive training on how to build and foster a team approach when working with each other, to identify possible solutions to conflicts (out with the old battling attorneys stereotype, and in with the attorneys who can work with each other to get a fair and balanced resolution for their clients).  
  • the attorneys cannot threaten the other party with going to court, as they are required to withdraw as their client's attorney if a solution cannot be found and agreed to within the collaborative process framework without resorting to contested court litigation.
  • the foundation of the process is identification of individual goals and interests so that all team members know the hopes and desires of each spouse or parent.
  • there are a series of team meetings in a controlled and safe environment, often referred to as the "safe box," during which the issues are identified and solutions are worked out and agreed-to.
  • All relevant documents and facts are produced and disclosed without going through time consuming and expensive formal discovery such as interrogatories, admissions, production, and depositions.
  • only one set of experts are engaged, as mutually agreed to by the attorneys and parties.
  • other collaboratively trained professionals, such as financial or mental health specialists, can be brought into the process to most cost-effectively focus the parties on the financial consequences and projections, and develop parenting plans that focus primarily on the child(ren)'s needs and best interests, not on what a parent simply "wants."

The net result of this unique approach to resolving the legal issues for a divorce or other family law matter is that the collaborative law approach is very often substantially less expensive and much quicker at bringing the parties to a mutually satisfactory agreement.  The advantages of Collaborative Practice are numerous, and not easily condensed into a few paragraphs. You are encouraged to visit the following website for more information on this dynamic and progressive way to handle your family law matters: www.collaborativepractice.com

John Burke, Dena Allen, and Matthew Fischer have completed extensive training in Collaborative Family Law as recommended by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, and are committed to the many advantages it has to offer clients over traditional litigation.  In fact, John was one of the three attorneys who first received this training in eastern Washington.  

John is a member of the Spokane County Collaborative Professionals, the Collaborative Professionals of Washington, and the International Association of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). Additionally, John Burke is a founding member of Spokane County Collaborative Professionals and Collaborative Professionals of Washington, and has served as a director and as an officer of both non-profit organizations.  Dena has served as an officer and director of Spokane County Collaborative Professionals.

Contact John Burke, Dena Allen, or Matthew Fischer at Burke Law Group for a no-cost initial consultation to find out how this approach to divorce can result in a healthier outcome for all involved, and whether this approach might be a good fit for your situation.

Meet Our Attorneys

Dena Allen

Principal / Member of the Firm, practicing in Family Law Litigation, Collaborative Law Divorce, Cooperative Divorce, Adoptions, Estate Planning, and Probate

John Burke

Principal / Managing Member of the Firm, practicing in Collaborative Law for Divorce, Uncontested Divorce and Estate Planning

Matthew Fischer

Principal / Member of the Firm, practicing in all areas of Family Law Litigation, Divorce and Uncontested Divorce. Also serves as a Spokane County Superior Court Pro Tem Commissioner

Cathy Helman

Associate Attorney, practicing in Appeals, Probate, Estate Planning, Family Law, and Bankruptcy. Also is an Administrative Law Judge Pro Tem with the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings.

Joseph Linehan

Of Counsel, practicing in Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) appeals, Family Law Litigation, Divorce, and Dependency. Also serves as a Spokane County Superior Court Pro Tem Commissioner

Robin Schmahl

Senior Associate Attorney, practicing in Family Law Litigation, Uncontested Divorce, Estate Planning, Probate, and Guardianship

Rhylee Smith

Associate Attorney, admitted to practice in Washington and Idaho, practicing in all aspects of Family Law, Divorce, Child Custody and Support, and Modifications to Existing Orders

Kenneth Zigler, Jr.

Of Counsel, practicing in Family Law Litigation, Divorce, Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and SSI benefits, and Lawsuits and Disputes including Personal Injury

Joanna Stranger

Rule 9 Intern, practicing in Family Law and Divorce

Kelly Padgham

Former Principal / Member of the Firm; Kelly passed away on September 20, 2015