Find Mediators Near You:

Book Review Of Collaborative Divorce Handbook: Helping Families Without Going To Court

“We had to learn ourselves, and furthermore we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life but instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life, daily and hourly. Our answer must consist not in talk and medication, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for the individual.”
Victor Frankl

Forrest S. “Woody” Mosten has been a visionary trailblazer for over 30 years. The first time I heard Woody speak was in Denver in the late 1990’s. The topic was Unbundling Legal Services. I remember thinking, boy is he courageous! I contemplated the resistance he would surely face from the rest of legal community. When you get to know Woody, you quickly discover that he is a champion of the ones who have no voice, the client drowning in conflict; a change agent on a very large scale. Early on in his career he had an innate sense of the direction in which the gathering winds of ADR were blowing and had the conviction to lead the charge with full measure of sail.

I remember the imprint his steady presence made upon my memory, although one cannot fully sense the entire picture without looking to his right. He is always accompanied by his wife and life companion Jody, who has supported his extraordinary journey. Together they greet each devotee with gentle welcoming grace. Woody is unassuming, a delightful speaker and I was sure that upon hearing his plea, that he just might succeed in changing the field of law, ADR in particular, through sheer force of will. Indeed he has. He is an interesting mix of tenacity and surrender, embrace and practicality. A gifted entrepreneur, he was one of the first to write about marketing an ADR practice, recognizing that if practitioners did not become proficient small business professionals, the field would take much longer to develop. In many areas of the country, volunteer mediation programs were the only way to gain experience and a flood of mediators were giving the mistaken assumption that their services were not valuable. The early entrants to this race were busy mediating, lecturing, training, and marketing the entire concept of alternative ways of handling disputes. We were all willing army ants with Woody and other pioneers of the field leading the charge to press forward. He is one of a handful of practitioners that has moved the field of ADR and Collaborative Law by sheer force alone. Build the field of dreams and they will come.

Step by step with each book, we have watched this powerhouse scrivener of handbook information move practitioners from the page to lively discussions at conferences across the nation, that 25 years ago were unthinkable. He is unafraid to threaten convention, and has never let the face of the client drift far from the intention he is determined to set forth. He is a precision writer, pragmatic and thorough in his approach to the “How to Do’s” of the field. In his new work, Collaborative Divorce Handbook, he lays out in amazing detail a book that informs the reader to such an extent that one could immediately start to put into action the principles of the collaborative practice. If you were a small practitioner in Poukeepsie, Waco, or Blackfoot, with no peer team for consultation, you would know how to begin a collaborative movement of one. There is no fine print here, it has amazing clarity, and is extremely well laid out in meticulous order. The intention of the writer is to inspire the reader to jump into action as soon as the book is completed. As hungry readers peruse the pages, he asks them to explore their goals, their intentions, the next step in obtaining the benchmark, then to discover what is blocking them, and to select from his amazing tool kit the perfect fix to plow through those blocks. He leads the reader through the self-analysis necessary to answer the critical questions, “Do I have the values and the commitment to break away and practice collaborative law? Mosten describes his own value of collaboration in this way:

“Collaboration is the bricks and mortar that binds the various thriving divorce models to offer alternatives to the adversarial court system. Rather than preemptively using power to leverage to gain the upper hand, collaborative professionals trust the best in their clients and in each other. Collaborative professionals work together toward the common end of helping spouses and their children resolve their divorces and begin to heal fairly, fast, with dignity, and at reasonable cost.”

Collaborative Divorce Handbook is a comprehensive resource, a wealth of knowledge about how to establish a your practice, how to build a team of professional colleagues, and a complete exploration of the pro’s and con’s of Collaborative Law. Written in the same format as the best-selling Mediation Career Guide, 2001, it is rich with creative practice tips, how to build a client library, forms to use, current case law on the collaborative law movement across the nation and professional standards of practice. This hands-on resource leads the practitioner toward the next frontier, becoming a peacemaker one case at a time.

Frank E. A. Sander of Harvard Law School notes, “Collaborative lawyering is a promising way of resolving disputes through joint problem solving rather than litigation that has particular appeal for divorce cases. Whether you are a client who seeks to learn more about it or a lawyer who desires to use a wise guiding hand, this book is an invaluable resource.”

The book begins with Woody’s visionary view of the future. He sees the Collaborative Law movement as part of a much larger global dynamic that is converging at an interdisciplinary crossroads to bring peacebuilding skills to the common man. Methodically, he builds upon his early concepts of unbundled legal service, which was fertile ground from which the field of collaborative law began to sprout. Mosten states, “A new practitioner would realize quickly the tremendous literature and models beyond the basic training”. Thus the book is designed to invite the lawyer to step into an advanced model, a new room, to give an explanation and overview of the models of collaborative practice, “put these models into context with other dispute resolution options, and provide readers with basic skills, practice tools, and strategies to make any informed choice about entering collaborative practice.” With regard to transformation of the field, the next frontier is surely the collaborative professional themselves. The change agent is in need of further sustenance to carry them through, not only withstanding this type of work, but in also using their work as a pathway to peacebuilding.

In Chapter Two, Mosten details the field of collaborative law divorce practice, what it is and how it works. The intersection of Mediation and Unbundled Services with Collaborative Practice is discussed in Chapter Three. In Chapter Four Mosten’s famous toolbox of strategies of practice is explored. Chapter Five discusses the interdisciplinary approach to collaborative dispute resolution. Mosten notes that the book “addresses the needs and concerns of the interdisciplinary membership of this practice: lawyers, mental health professionals, accountants and financial planners, and “others (business and religious and social referral sources, business and real estate professionals, and organizations and educational institutions interested in this growing field.”

Constance Ahrons, PhD., author of The Good Divorce says of Collaborative Divorce Handbook, “Written by one of the innovative thinkers in this field, this handbook is a treasure of information for all professionals interested in Collaborative Divorce. Easy to read, expansive and chocked full of resources it is bound to become a classic.”

Chapter Six covers the topics of informed consent, practitioner competencies and best practices. Chapter Seven delves into the steps to take to make the transition from adversarial divorce to collaborative divorce. Mosten’s hallmark marketing strategies are outlined in Chapter Eight.

Chapter Nine brings to the reader a plan for self examination. With the invitation to self inquiry the reader is led to look inside and reflect upon the values underlying the initial decision to practice law. Mosten then promotes an assessment of those values. Mosten suggests that the practitioner query other professionals in the field to discover if this collaborative shift for practice matched their interior values and how they constructed their highway from adversarial law to collaborative law. He asks, “Are you committed to peacemaking and making a living through approaching the law in an alternative way?” He suggests taking 25 steps toward being a peacemaker. Collaborative Divorce Handbook ends with a rich collage of resources. Included are a glossary of terms, internet resources for the practitioner, and an extensive bibliography for the field.

Mosten writes, “You have an opportunity to make a lasting contribution to the families you touch and to make a difference in your own life that go far beyond reaching a better kind of divorce settlement and making your living in a less destructive way. If you just reach a bit more through collaboration, you have a chance to truly make a difference in the lives of every member of the families you serve as well as the quality of your own personal life. …With your intentionality to start a peacemaker path, you can work toward that transformation, one step at a time, starting immediately.”

Collaborative Divorce Handbook is no exception to the previous library of handbooks “a la Mosten.” In its thorough layout, it leaves no subject unexplored, no difference of opinion unstated, no practice tip left out, but has a quality about it that once again foresees the direction of transformation of dispute resolution. The practitioner is the new frontier; no longer in need of building this field, Woody’s calling is clear. He is in search of the willingness of creative legal souls across the country to step forward and become peacemakers, one case at a time.


Nan Burnett

Nan is a transformative high conflict mediator, psychotherapist, conflict systems design consultant, and a founding partner in Dispute Resolution Professionals, Inc.  Nan is an Advanced Practitioner in ACR.  She is the immediate past Chair of the ACR Spirituality Section.  Nan has been on the faculty at Regis University since 1999.… MORE >

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


Legal Stress

IndisputablyIn a recent post, I described the intense stress that individual and organizational litigants often undergo as a result of litigation.  The legal system attracts and magnifies stressful conflicts, which...

By John Lande

Is Mediation A Placebo?

This column is adapted from The Voodoo That You Do: The Placebo Effect in Mediation, presented at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Onati, Spain on July...

By Barry Goldman

EU Online Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes

EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM 1. CONTEXT OF THE PROPOSAL The present proposal, together with the proposal for a Directive on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes ("Directive on consumer ADR"), is to...

By European Commission