A growing number of lawyers, mental health professionals and financial professionals on P.E.I. are working to find an alternative approach to divorce through something called collaborative practice: an out-of-court settlement process that helps couples negotiate the terms of separation with a focus on the needs of the family, rather than a win-lose model.

40 people on the Island currently have collaborative practice training and another nine began learning the ropes this week.

"Collaborative practice arose out of a growing concern among lawyers and family counsellors who were seeing families go through a separation and divorce process that led them to be engaged in adversarial proceedings in court," said lawyer Jacinta Gallant. 

'I just got tired of the destructive approach that I was really having to take.' Jacinta Gallant, collaborative lawyer

Gallant has been a trailblazer in P.E.I. in collaborative practice, starting in 2003.

"We've seen the demand growing significantly in the last three or four years as we moved to an interdisciplinary practice, meaning couples going through separation and divorce have the choice of working with family professionals and financial professionals in addition to their lawyers," said Gallant. 

The public is becoming more educated about the availability of these processes, in part because separating couples are keen to save money that court proceedings can rack up quickly.

"Also, I think, people want to be able to do this well. They want to be able to say to their children, 'Yes we separated as parents, and we did it in a way that was sensitive to your needs'." 

P.E.I. Jacinta Gallant

Charlottetown lawyer Jacinta Gallant leads a training session Thursday about collaborative practice. (Submitted by Jacinta Gallant)

That's not to say all this collaboration makes divorce easy. Each half of the couple still has their own lawyer. But Gallant said couples relax and appreciate the commitment to resolving conflict — sensible, given the fact that the couple will inevitably have some sort of future relationship going forward. 

Gallant led a professional development session Thursday in Charlottetown for legal, financial and mental health professionals to become trained in collaboration and inter-space negotiation, a certification that requires seven days' training. 

Although the win-lose approach of the court is an important part of the justice system, Gallant said she discovered quickly as a young family lawyer that it is ill-suited to families transitioning from being together to being apart.

"I just got tired of the destructive approach that I was really having to take," she said. 

Parents who've used the process have told Gallant they felt their children fared better than they would have divorcing through the court system, and thought it resulted in more productive co-parenting afterward. 

There are trained collaborative practice professionals in every province in Canada and in 20 countries.

With files from Angela Walker