Thirty years ago, in 1990, a family lawyer in Minneapolis named Stu Webb had an idea.  He thought the idea was good enough to share with the Minnesota Supreme Court Justice at the time, “Sandy” Keith.  Stu’s letter of February 14, 1990, to Chief Justice Keith starts out:

Dear Sandy,
I met you at a party . . . several years ago.

Stu did not even know Sandy Keith!  But undaunted, Stu plows ahead:

I think I’ve come up with a new wrinkle that I’d like to share with you.  One of the aspects of mediation that I feel is a weakness is that it basically leaves out input by the lawyer at the early stages [of the mediation process]. . ..  By that I don’t mean adversarial, contentious lawyering, but the analytical, reasoned ability to solve problems and generate creative alternatives and create a positive context for settlement. 

…[Y]ou and I have both experienced, I’m sure, those occasional times, occurring usually by accident, when in the course of attempting to negotiate a family law settlement, we find ourselves in a conference with the opposing counsel, and perhaps the respective clients, where the dynamics were such that in a climate of positive energy, creative alternatives were presented.  In that context, everyone contributed to a final settlement that satisfied all concerned—and everyone left the conference feeling high energy, good feelings and satisfaction. More than likely, the possibility for a change in the way the parties related to each other in the future may have greatly increased.  As a result, the lawyers may also develop a degree of trust between them that might make future dealings more productive.

So, my premise has been:  Why not create this settlement climate deliberately?  . . . I would do this by creating a coterie of lawyers who would agree to take cases . . . for settlement only.  . . . I call the attorney in this settlement model a collaborative attorney, practicing in that case collaborative law. 

This little history might end here but Chief Justice Sandy Keith did respond to Stu’s letter(!!):

Dear Stu,
Many thanks for one of the most thoughtful letters I have received these past months.  Congratulations .  . . on the model you are setting up in the family law area.  . . . I know it will be successful.   . . . I think you have thought it through better than most attorneys and I think it is a very valid model in the family law area.

Both Stu Webb and Sandy Keith were pioneers in family law practice.  Sandy was a pioneer in using a mediation process in family law; Stu was a pioneer in creating a collaborative process in family law.  Thanks to them, out-of-court processes—mediation and collaboration—are benefiting clients all over the world.  Sandy Keith—former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, former Lieutenant Governor, former State Senator, and former family law attorney—died October 3, 2020.  His support of the Collaborative process is not forgotten.

Footnote from Stu Webb, 10/6/20:
Here is the link to the Star Tribune Obituary of Sandy Keith, who died last Saturday, October 3 at 91!  I could say that Sandy is responsible for releasing Collaborative Law to the world!  In 1990, when I self-questioned the credibility of the concept, I wrote him a letter describing the process and, essentially, highlighting some potential advantages of it over mediation (which was his former practice specialty!)  Instead of defensively ‘shooting it down’, he Immediately sent a short note back, basically saying ‘wonderful, go for it’!  And years later, I had the honor of participating in a Collaborative Law case with him in my home office!  WHAT A GUY!!
Star Tribune Obituary \Sandy Keith:

About The Author
Tonda Mattie, has been a Family Law attorney for over 40 years and has practiced exclusively Collaborative Family Law since 2006.  She has been involved in the Collaborative Law movement since 1992.  She has been past President and past Co-President of the Collaborative Law Institute (CLI) of Minnesota.  She has headed the CLI Training Committee as chair or co-chair since 2004.  She is engaged in the practice of her dreams using a collaborative process that 1) allows good people to be their best despite the crisis they are in; 2) is centered on the well-being of the children; 3) creates a safe environment for difficult conversations; 4) focuses on the future rather than on blame and past grievances; 5) identifies and meets the needs and interests of all family members; 6) empowers parties to control and create their own mutual settlement; and 7) creates a climate in which healing can begin to occur. Visit her website at

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Dan and Tonda celebrating 40 years of marriage in Paris.
My husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary this year. It feels like a big number but I don’t feel old or tired of the marriage. My husband and I have worked hard to keep our marriage fresh and vibrant, and we look forward to the next 20 or 30 years together. But as a collaborative divorce attorney, I know that even happy marriages can come to an end. In fact most marriages are happy, some for many years, before “stuff happens” and one or both spouses decide to end the marriage. Before I became a “collaborative” divorce attorney and was merely a “traditional” divorce attorney, it was frightening to think of going through my own divorce. My experience as a “traditional” divorce attorney made me all too aware of the stress my clients and their spouses underwent in an adversarial process that sometimes exacerbated the conflict between them and put pressure on them to vilify or blame the other. However, since limiting my practice to the out-of-court collaborative divorce process, I am no longer afraid of going through my own divorce if that became necessary. I know that my husband and I would be respected in the collaborative process and that we would work for the greater good of our family and for our mutual future security. While my marriage would be a great loss to me, I know the collaborative process is there to gently, effectively, and efficiently escort me and my husband through this important life event. Don’t be afraid. If you are faced with or considering an end to your marriage, consider a collaborative divorce. You can find out more about it at and  

The secret to a constructive and respectful divorce is to start at the end and work backward.  Ask yourself, “What do I want my life, my spouse’s life, and my children’s lives to look like when the divorce is all over?  What is my vision for the future?”

In fact, the first task of clients who choose a collaborative divorce process is to answer these questions and to share their answers with each other.  Here are some of their answers: Couple A
  • Children/Family We want our children and ourselves to feel that we are a family that loves and cares for each other.
  • Relational We want us to look back on this difficult time and be proud of how we handled ourselves and each other. We want both of us to be happy in the future.
  • Financial We want our final agreement to ensure equitable life styles and standards of living. We want our final agreement to provide financial security for both of us in retirement and in the event of the death of either of us. We want our final agreement to respect the financial decisions/intent of our respective families to leave us money.
  • Process We want a divorce process that supports a positive future. We want a divorce process in which we both feel heard and safe to discuss difficult issues. We want to be comfortable with our final agreement and to have a mechanism for implementing it. We want our divorce process to be cost effective and efficient. We want to minimize the emotional and financial stress of our divorce.
Couple B
  • Children For our son to have a solid, cohesive parenting team who loves him. For our son to be shielded from the negative aspects of the divorce.
  • Financial For both households to have financial stability and security. For us to be debt-free by using an intentionally controlled plan of action.
  • Relational/Emotional That we create a trusting relationship with each other and the potential for friendship. That we reduce the emotional and financial stress we feel as a result of our divorce.
  • Process That the collaborative process be as cost-effective as possible while obtaining the added value that our neutral professionals bring to the process.
Couple C
  • For our children not to feel divided.
  • For our children to feel comfortable with both of us.
  • For us to convey a sense of harmony to our children.
  • To have financial security for both of us.
  • To get along with each other after the divorce; to have mutual respect for each other; and to have a pleasant relationship.
By starting at the end, couples are reminded how much they still have in common despite the ending of their marriage. By starting at the end and working backward, the couple and their team of collaborative professionals can focus all their attention on crafting a settlement that accomplishes the couple’s vision. By starting at the end, the collaborative divorce process promotes healing and a peaceful transition through this important life event. If you or someone you know might benefit from using a collaborative process for their divorce, go to and to find out more about Collaborative Divorce.
186820735In Part I we learned that advocacy in the “rights-based” Court Model is hard on the people involved because by focusing on the 3rd-party decision maker, e.g., the judge, the parties care little about each other’s view.  As a result, their relationship can become more adversarial.  In Part II we learned that by removing the decision maker in the “interest-based” Collaborative Model the parties become the decision makers who resolve mutual problems based on their defined future needs, interests, and goals.  But is the removal of the 3rd party decision maker enough to create a process that is truly “soft” on the people? Most people who have gone through a divorce agree that divorce is much more than a legal event.  More importantly divorce is about changing relationships, improving communication, establishing co-parenting, engaging in problem-solving, and securing a stable financial future.  But many divorce processes do not adequately address these more important concerns, thus limiting divorce to simply a legal commodity. To gain the added value of improving your relationship with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, of becoming successful co-parents, of mutually planning for the future, and of customizing your financial arrangement to meet the needs of all family members within the resources available, requires the assistance and expertise of NEUTRAL professionals.   These neutral professionals include a Neutral Financial Professional, a Neutral Coach, and a Neutral Child Specialist.  This team approach is the “secret sauce” used in the Collaborative Model that can transform the experience of this life event into something constructive, affirming, and even peaceful.  Obviously, this is of great benefit to children. Diagram - The Power of Neutrality 082814 In addition to the support and expertise provided, the neutrality of the neutral professionals balances attorney advocacy.  This permits the attorney to stay in the problem-solving and interest-based advocacy role for his or her client, while the neutral professionals hold the ground for resolution on behalf of the whole family.  This interdisciplinary, holistic approach to advocacy and expertise is what distinguishes the Collaborative Model from any other model out there. Collaborative professionals like to say this model contributes to world peace one family at a time.  If this approach makes sense to you, tell your friends, family, and colleagues about the Collaborative Model and contribute to world peace.
82830939In Part I we learned that “rights-based” advocacy in the Court Model is hard on the problem but also hard on the people. Advocacy in the “interest-based” Collaborative Model is also hard on the problem, but SOFT on the people. How is this possible? In the Collaborative Model, the parties voluntarily agree to reach a settlement outside of court. Thus the 3rd party decision-maker, e.g., the judge, is removed from the collaborative process. Instead, the decision-maker is the parties themselves!

Circle Diagram for Collab Model 082814

In order to reach a settlement, the parties must consider and honor the other party’s perspective. In the Collaborative Model, advocacy is not about the position a client takes on a particular issue, but about meeting the future needs, interests, and goals that are defined by the couple themselves. By framing the problem in terms of needs, interests and goals, parties are likely to see their dispute as a mutual problem that they must work together to solve. They now answer the question: how do we both get our needs and interests met? How does our family get its needs and interests met? Advocacy in the Collaborative Model encourages parties to look behind their opposed positions to determine the motivating interests. In doing so, the parties often find alternative solutions that meet the needs of both sides. Collaborative advocacy pays attention to balance, listening and being creative. Collaborative advocacy creates an incentive to work together, acknowledge the other, to be authentic and realistic. This kind of collaboration can occur only in an atmosphere that is respectful, transparent, and mutual; and one that incentivizes caring about the other party’s point of view with the removal of the 3rd party decision-maker. While being hard on the problem and soft on the people seems to be a contradiction, it is this contradiction that promotes better settlements and preserves needed relationships. Who knew that removing the 3rd party decision-maker could make such a difference! In Part III, I will explore how the power of neutrality is the secret sauce to a successful collaborative divorce.
140196937Parties going through a divorce need to understand that advocacy in the “rights-based” Court Model and advocacy in the “interest-based” Collaborative Model are different; and advocacy in each of these models feels different as well.  Bear with me while I examine Advocacy in the “rights-based” Court Model in Part I in preparation for discussing advocacy in the “interest-based” Collaborative Model in Part II followed by the “power of neutrality” in Part III.   Trust me, this is interesting. In a rights-based model, “rights” are independent standards of fairness or legitimacy that are formally established in law or contract.  Usually different rights or entitlements are at stake in a particular case.  Here, each party and their attorney is playing to the decision-maker, e.g., the judge, or playing to a prediction of what the decision-maker would decide based on application of the law to the facts of the case.

Diagram - Advocacy in Rights-based Model 082814

In this case, neither party cares much about the other party’s point of view.  What matters is what the judge thinks or is predicted to think.  “Rights-based” advocacy focuses on winning and losing and defending positions, and frequently emphasizes past events.  The relationship between the parties is likely to become more adversarial, the parties becoming opponents interacting in an accusatory atmosphere.  While advocacy in this model is hard on the problem, it is also hard on the parties. A rights-based model can sometimes accomplish what an interest-based model cannot—bring an end to the divorce.  There will always be parties and problems that cannot be resolved without a 3rd party decision-maker making a final decision or threatening to make a final decision for the parties.  But for many families, a rights-based procedure is not necessary.   A rights-based procedure should be a last resort rather than a first resort. That was pretty interesting, right?  In Part II, I will examine advocacy in the “interest-based” Collaborative Model and how the removal of the 3rd party decision-maker makes all the difference.  In Part III, the power of neutrality is shown to be the secret ingredient to advocacy in the “interest-based” Collaborative Model.
455422869Recently I received a referral from Kristin, a client I represented in 2011 in her collaborative divorce. In thanking her for the referral, I took the opportunity to ask her how she was doing. With her permission, her response is reproduced below. At the time of her divorce, Kristin and her husband had two (2) children ages 10 and 12. Hi Tonda, Nice to hear from you. I will fill you in with some detail for examples of what can lay on the other side of divorce to help you give hope to your clients going through this painful process. Everyone is doing well here; the kids are doing really well splitting their time between our 2 households (4 miles apart). Tom and I have a much better relationship now than when we were getting divorced. We talk several times per week and text, usually daily, mostly regarding kids’ stuff like coordinating activities/homework and just general parenting issues. We also try to meet for coffee sometimes to discuss things more in depth like holidays and vacation planning and kids’ milestones. We see each other at their basketball games, tennis matches, orchestra concerts, etc, even holidays sometimes, and usually sit together with our new spouses. Tom and I both got re-married a couple of months ago and Tom and his wife are expecting a baby in March. I married a pharmacist that I met after the divorce and we got married in Yosemite in August of this year. The four of us get along well and the kids get along well with both our spouses so I have nothing but great things to say about the collaborative process. It really helped us to avoid a lot of un-pleasantries and keep our family together without staying married, which is really great. I hope all is well with you and your practice. I will continue to recommend people look into collaborative divorce as an option. It has been very helpful to us to use the divorce agreement as a structure, but we stay very flexible with rearranging schedules, holidays and vacations etc. We have actually never even had an argument since the divorce. It has helped us build a sense of cooperation and the collaborative process really reinforced putting the kids as the center point for all decisions going forward. One of the things that always stuck in my mind through the whole process was that Tom and I decided that even though we did not have a successful and healthy marriage, we would have a successful and healthy divorce and be successful and healthy parents. Best, Kristin
Recently I received a LinkedIn endorsement from Christa, a client I represented in 2008 in her collaborative divorce.  In thanking her for her endorsement, I took the opportunity to ask her how she was doing.   With her permission, her response is reproduced below.   At the time of her divorce, Christa’s two (2) daughters were 16 and 17, and Christa only worked part-time. Hello Tonda, How nice to hear from you!  Life has been good on my end.  I’ve move forward professionally and personally–continued to work in psychiatric research, first part-time and then, for the past 4 years full-time.  In addition, I’ve been building my private counseling practice, which led to 60+ work hours per week.  The practice is going well enough that I was able to resign my salaried position effective this November. It’s not easy leaving a place that feels like a curious and lovable community, but for the sake of living a full life, choices needed to be made. In October 2008, a mutual friend introduced me to a man who is now my husband.  He was married before and has 2 children–his son is the same age as my oldest daughter (23), and his daughter is 15.  We were married February last year (2013) on Key West.  Almost my entire family came over to be there for us–including some nieces and nephews.  It was lovely. Two weeks later, my former husband got married as well to a woman he had been dating since our separation. The girls are doing very well.  My oldest daughter will be graduating this coming spring with a major in education and mathematics.  My youngest daughter will graduate next December, and then plans to get her MA degree in child psychology.  After struggling with grades and transitions the first year, they have both become straight-A students. My youngest daughter said something interesting the other day while we were driving.  She said, “Mom, I can’t even imagine you and dad being together anymore; it’s not like I don’t remember, but you guys are so different, and all my friends can’t even believe the two of you were ever married.  I mean, how did you make it work for so long?” Today, both my daughters see the benefit of their parents having divorced and moved on.  My former husband seems happy, has a good relationship with his daughters and brought a great woman into his life.  I’m happy as well, and likewise have a wonderful connection with my daughters.  Both daughters are relieved they don’t have to worry about either one of us, and both of them like our choice of new partners. Everyone is well and happy.  I’m very grateful for the part you played in giving me the information and support I needed to take the step toward divorce that had frightened me so much.  Not once did I regret this transition.  I appreciate the divorce process was not hostile. You were calm, wise and nurturing when I was in the grips of anxiety. Sure, there were hurt feelings and it’s very stressful going through this process.  However, it left two people free to move forward and build a meaningful life.  It also freed our children from the worry they had for parents who just could not be happy together. So: thank you, thank you, thank you!!! All the best, Christa
Recent articles in the New York Times and the StarTribune (March 29, 2014) covered Gwyneth Paltrow’s announcement that she and her husband of 11 years, Chris Martin, were consciously uncoupling.  In other words, getting a divorce.  I was struck by how the term “conscious uncoupling”—coined by LA therapist and author, Katherine Woodward Thomas—neatly describes what happens in the out-of-court divorce process called Collaborative Law aka Collaborative Practice.  Collaborative Practice uses a collaborative approach to respectfully honor the marriage that is ending and intentionally plan for the best possible future for all family members.   What is accomplished by many couples in Collaborative Practice is what the term “conscious uncoupling” implies:  mutual respect, integrity, being mindful of the well-being of children, planning for the future by problem-solving in the present, being empowered to make informed decisions, and creating a climate for healing. A new era is upon us, one where ending a relationship does not have to be adversarial, judgmental, or harmful.  If it takes a celebrity to lead us into this new era, I am all for it.  Gwyneth, you go girl!
Raggedy Andy for Halloween
Tonda as “Raggedy Andy” for Halloween
Halloween is my favorite holiday. I always dress in costume even if I am not going to a Halloween party. In the past, I have dressed as Ms. Piggy, Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, the Medusa, a Cone Head, the Pinball Wizard, and stuck my head inside a carved pumpkin, just to name a few. It’s the time of year for tricks or treats. While treats are the standard fare, I sometimes think it would be fun to give out tricks instead. Tricks are not appropriate, however, in your divorce process. But many people feel they have been tricked when they find out later they agreed to an ill-conceived settlement. Even if technically there had been no trickery in the settlement process, what was probably missing from it was the transparency and education needed to make informed decisions. By using the collaborative divorce process, you and your spouse are assured of complete transparency of all facts relevant to making an informed decision about your settlement. Furthermore, you both receive the added value of consulting with the appropriate expert to thoroughly understand what the facts mean, be they financial facts, child development facts, legal facts, or communication and relational facts. Making informed decisions is critical to achieving a successful and durable settlement customized to the future needs of your family. No tricks. And yes, treats are still possible despite a divorce.