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As featured in MONTCO.TODAY's "Ask a Real Lawyer"

Question: My friend told me to find a collaborative lawyer for my divorce. I am not really sure what that is. Can someone explain this to me and tell me if there are collaborative lawyers in Montgomery County?

Answer provided by: Ellen S. Fischer, Esq. from the law firm of Fenningham Dempster & Coval LLP

Ellen S. Fischer, Esq. -  Fenningham Dempster & Coval LLP Collaborative Law Divorce Montgomery County, PA

Collaborative Divorce is a no court alternative to the traditional litigated divorce, child custody, property distribution, and support cases.   Each spouse or partner retains a collaboratively trained family law attorney and then all of us sign a binding Collaborative Participation Agreement committing to not litigate and agreeing to resolve the issues in private meetings, held at one of the attorney’s offices, at a time convenient for the clients. We sit around a table, no matter how difficult, and work together cooperatively to reach amicable agreements.  The process is driven by the clients so that the discussions consider the specific needs of each family member as well as the whole family.

As part of the promise to not litigate, there is also the promise that the parties will be honest and transparent and will voluntarily share all relevant and necessary financial and other documentation.

But there is a downside.  In the event one of the parties wants to leave the process, then the collaborative attorneys must be discharged and the parties must retain new litigation counsel.  The parties must start over from the beginning with their new attorneys.  Everything that was shared during collaborative negotiations, remains confidential.  The collaborative attorneys are prohibited from speaking with a client’s new attorney.  This, of course, results in additional legal fees and even greater animosity. 

Collaborative Divorce has been around since the 1990’s, but it is only recently that people are hearing more about it, because some newsworthy folks have used it for their divorces.   When the process was first developed, it was limited to the two attorneys and the two clients.  But as the process has evolved, it has become a multidisciplinary process.  In many cases now, the clients meet with a divorce coach, a licensed mental health practitioner with collaborative training, who helps them work with and through their fear and anger and learn tools for constructive dialogue.  This ensures that each client has a voice at the table, even when the issues are so emotionally charged it is hard to think straight.  There is also the option of using a divorce financial advisor who has also been collaboratively trained and who helps in developing budgets now that one household is going to be two households.  The financial advisor can also help with ideas about how to creatively distribute the assets to maximize their value.

Collaborative divorce is a holistic approach to divorce.  The lawyers, clients and, when necessary, the other professionals, work together as a team for the benefit of the entire family, while recognizing that each party is an individual with his and her own values, beliefs and goals.  By eliminating adversarial proceedings, and prioritizing the needs of the children, many families find that the process allows them to develop a healthier relationship both during and after the case concludes.  There is pain, no doubt about it, but staying out of court empowers the parties to reach beyond today’s frustration and pain and to give space for planning for the future.  

To arrange a free consultation with attorney Ellen S. Fischer, Esq., one of several member attorneys in Montgomery County who is experienced in collaborative law, click here to email a Montgomery Bar Association LRS advisor now (, or call 610-994-3656 during regular business hours (Monday-Friday, 9 AM-4PM). If contacting us by phone, please be sure to mention this attorney's name and how you heard.about us. Automated referrals to other Montgomery Bar Association member-attorneys in your area offering free or deeply discounted collaborative divorce consultations through our service are available Online anytime at

More about this Montgomery Bar Association member-panelist (bio provided by this attorney prior to publication):

I am a caring, compassionate and knowledgeable family law attorney with a philosophy of the power of amicable settlement, collaboration and mediation.  My years of practice have taught me the benefits of staying out of court and resolving divorce in a peaceful and respectful manner.  Staying out of court relieves the children of the emotional conflict faced by separating families and allows families to focus on the benefits of having a healthy post-divorce relationship.  But not all cases can resolve without going to court and when necessary, I am a zealous trial advocate.   

I handle all areas of family law including divorce, custody, relocation, spousal and child support, equitable distribution, alimony, pre and post nuptial agreements, cohabitation agreements, paternity, name change, domestic abuse, post-divorce issues, and grandparent and third-party custody.

Throughout my career, I have advocated for and supported the LGBTQ community and was invited to join the Family Law Institute of the National LGBT Bar Association, a select group of international attorneys dedicated to pursuing the rights of LGBTQ individuals and families. 

I have also learned the importance of helping those who lack the funds necessary to hire an attorney.  I am a volunteer attorney with the Montgomery County Child Advocacy Program (MCAP), the Montgomery County Court on Protection from Abuse Days, the Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program (VIP) and the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia. 

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