Court approves first collaborative divorce in Eastern Iowa

Attorneys Jake Koller and Mary Chicchelly recently wrapped up their first collaborative divorce with a Linn County couple who were married over 30 years, and with this less adversarial process it took only a little over a month for a decree.

Koller and Chicchelly, along with about 10 other attorneys in Eastern Iowa were trained in collaborative law last March. This non-traditional way to divorce has been available in the Des Moines area for five or six years but this is the first one completed and approved by the court in the Corridor.

Collaborative law differs from mediation because the couple has the benefit of an attorney who has problem solving and negotiating skills to help them explore all options without going to court. The couple also signs a binding agreement to reach a settlement that works for both.

This  process is designed to save time, money and emotional pain.

Koller, who practices with Simmons Perrine Moyer Bergman in Cedar Rapids, was interviewed last April about collaborative law after he coordinated the local training. Since that time there has been more interest from attorneys and clients, and he is already working on another one and a few more clients are considering, he said.

“It’s a great way to resolve disputes,” Chicchelly, of Seidl and Chicchelly in Cedar Rapids, said. “If I could talk all my clients into this approach, I would do it. It’s a more positive experience to have the client leave with a smile instead of being beaten up.”

Koller said every divorce is so different but a traditional divorce with similar issues as this couple had takes about six to nine months, and if it goes to trial possibly up to one and half years.

This process also cost the couple about half as much as they would have paid going through the traditional process with attorney and court fees, Koller said. Each client paid about $1,500 and a traditional divorce would run from $2,500 to $3,500, he said.

Koller said not all the collaborative divorces may go this quickly but this process is usually quicker than a traditional divorce. This divorce didn’t involve any custody issues but there were other considerations to work out.

Chicchelly said this process makes more complex divorces easier. In a collaborative situation, a couple would share an expert if needed for financial services or mental health issues, who would figure out the best solution for both, instead of each hiring separate experts.

“It builds a trust, instead of breaking it down,” she said. “There’s more transparency.”

Koller said this kind of divorce is also good for the attorneys because they’re on the same page, working towards the same objective – what’s best for the couple as they divide their lives.

“It’s not a big group bear hug but it’s less stress and anxiety,” Koller said.

Anyone interested in more information should visit Collaborative Lawyers of Eastern Iowa.

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