Ten Years of IAALS: Taking Divorce Out of Court with Better Outcomes for Families

Guest Post

IAALS is celebrating its 10th Anniversary in 2016. Throughout the year, we will be featuring guest posts from our colleagues and partners to recap our accomplishments and national impactand look to the future ahead. The full series of posts will be collected here.

In 2012, when I first started researching Splitopia, my book on today’s good divorce, I assumed there were dearth of good ideas around for helping families transition out of marriage smoothly. It would be my job, I decided, to develop new thinking for the age-old problem of marriage’s end. 

Upon further investigation, I discovered that many legal professionals, reformers, and mental health practitioners did have good ideas for helping adults and children navigate this difficult transition, but they weren’t communicating them adequately between disciplines and across states, let alone to divorcing families. I would start a national divorce communication program, perhaps affiliating with a think tank in Washington, D.C.!

Then I visited the Resource Center for Separating and Divorce Families in Denver, developed and pilot tested by the Honoring Families Initiative of IAALS. This, I quickly realized, was the most important innovation in divorce happening today. Not just talk, but also action. The Resource Center, which has developed into the Center for Out-of-Court Divorce, is the real utopia of divorce and separation—an actual brick-and-mortar, one-stop, divorce-and-separation shop. The COCD is a place where couples can learn to come apart, together—ideally before either partner has given in to the lure of the adversarial lawyer.

The Center for Out-of-Court Divorce helps couples reframe divorce as a difficult and sad transition rather than an all-out war. This reframing is critical, as we look out on a nation with 50,000,000 divorcees and another two million or so joining their ranks each year. The bad divorce not only derails children, destabilizes adults, and saps the attention of our workforce, but it also can lead to bad second marriages—new unions undermined by ongoing fighting from the first.

But the COCD does more than merely argue for new thinking. It actually intercepts couples on their way to the destructive adversarial legal process, and directs them toward the specific tools they need to build better lives and protect their children. The Center provides psychological counseling, an absolute essential for many people facing divorce. It offers legal and financial education, and workshops for children, when needed. It provides a personalized web of support for couples who are in the scary process of becoming singles once again. And, they never have to step into a courtroom. When the time comes to finalize the divorce or separation, a judge visits the Center, sits down with the parents, and makes things official.

We have all listened to friends or acquaintances rail about the “insane” ex-wife, or the “jerk” ex-husband. I used to wonder how so many nice, reasonable people managed to marry unstable partners. But the process of divorce can cause this crazy-seeming behavior. The COCD stops the insanity before it starts. Anyone who cares about marriage and family stability needs to care about improving divorce. And with the COCD eyeing new locations nationwide, it is clear that big improvements are on the horizon.

"Splitopia: Dispatches from Today’s Good Divorce and How to Part Well" was released in March 2016 and is now available through Atria Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Inc. Wendy Paris is currently on a nationwide book tour.