Andrea Vacca on How to Use Collaborative Divorce to Reduce Drama

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Episode Description

Divorce doesn't have to be a battleground. Attorney Andrea Vacca has cracked the code on keeping families out of court and preserving their well-being throughout the divorce process. As a trailblazer in Collaborative Divorce and other alternative dispute resolution processes, Andrea’s approach is redefining what's possible when a marriage ends.

The traditional divorce litigation path is adversarial by nature, pitting spouses against each other in a zero-sum game. But Andrea has pioneered a paradigm shift - one where she and her team are committed to keeping their clients out of court.

This podcast episode provides an in-depth discussion of Collaborative Divorce and how the team approach it uses provides clients with more support while also dialing down the drama in their divorce. Our conversation provides a sneak peek into a more enlightened way of navigating one of life's most challenging crossroads.

Show Notes

About Andrea

Andrea Vacca is the founder of Vacca Family Law Group in New York City, a boutique law firm focused on non-adversarial divorce and family law matters. With a background in traditional divorce litigation, Andrea now exclusively helps clients find amicable divorce solutions outside of court. 

She is a widely recognized collaborative divorce attorney and mediator, former President of the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals, author of the book "Divorce Without Court: A More Peaceful Solution", and creator and host of "A Better Divorce Podcast". Andrea also holds a Certificate in Positive Psychology and regularly applies Positive Psychology principles to help her clients navigate divorce.

Connect with Andrea

You can connect with Andrea on LinkedIn at Andrea Vacca or on Facebook at Vacca Family Law.  You can follow Andrea on her YouTube channel at Andrea Vacca New York Collaborative Divorce Lawyer and on Instagram at Vacca_FamilyLaw. To find out how to work with Andrea visit her website at Vacca Law.

Key Takeaways From This Episode with Andrea

  • Andrea explains what collaborative divorce is - a formal process where attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals work as a team to help couples reach a divorce settlement outside of court.
  • Andrea stresses the importance of hiring professionals formally trained in the collaborative process and how to verify their credentials.
  • She highlights the benefits of collaborative divorce, such as having a team-based approach, keeping children's needs front and center, and fostering better communication between spouses.
  • She discusses how to identify truly collaborative professionals through training, experience, and membership in collaborative practice groups.
  • Andrea advises on the suitability of collaborative divorce for cases involving personality disorders like narcissism, emphasizing the importance of having mental health support.
  • She suggests ways to incorporate a team approach even when one spouse is unwilling to do full collaborative divorce.
  • If the collaborative process breaks down, all professionals must withdraw per the participation agreement, requiring new litigation attorneys if going to court. Andrea sees this as enforcing full commitment.
  • Andrea shares her journey of transitioning from litigation to exclusively doing collaborative divorce, driven by a realization that court is the worst place for families.
  • Andrea reflects on her decision to have a non-adversarial, collaborative practice as one of the hardest yet most rewarding choices in her career.

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Andrea Vacca on How to Use Collaborative Divorce to Reduce Drama


collaboration, dispute, resolution


Karen Covy, Andrea Vacca

Karen Covy Host00:10

Hello and welcome to Off the Fence, a podcast where we deconstruct difficult decision making so we can discover what keeps us stuck and, more importantly, how we can get unstuck and start making even tough decisions with confidence. I'm your host, Karen Covey, a former divorce lawyer, mediator and arbitrator, turned coach, author and entrepreneur. And now, without further ado, let's get on with the show with me. Today. I am delighted to have Andrea Vacca, and Andrea is the founder of Vacca Family Law Group in New York City, a boutique law firm focused on non-adversarial divorce and family law matters. With a background in traditional divorce litigation, Andrea now exclusively helps clients find amicable divorce solutions outside of court. Andrea is widely recognized as a collaborative divorce attorney and mediator. She's also the former president of the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals, the author of the book Divorced Without Court a More Peaceful Solution, and the creator and host of the A Better Divorce podcast. Andrea also holds a certificate in positive psychology and regularly applies positive psychology principles to help her clients navigate divorce.  Andrea, welcome to the show.

Andrea Vacca Guest

Thanks, Karen, so good to be here.

Karen Covy Host00

I am thrilled to have you and you know I want to just dive right in with the question. That's the burning question for me. You are unique among family lawyers in that you stay out of court exclusively, right? Why? How did you get to this point where you decided you were no longer going to do litigation? You're going to only help your clients when they're outside of the court process.

Andrea Vacca Guest02:06

Yeah, yeah. I'm happy to share that because there were some what I call aha moments that really helped put me on that path and then the final decision was made. But about 20 years ago now I've been practicing law about 30 years and 10 to 11 years into my practicing I learned that I heard someone talk about collaborative divorce. I had never heard about it before and when I heard these attorneys talking about it, it was this light literally was shining down on this long conference table I was sitting at and I saw a path. I've never had that happen before. But I said I have to do this work. I have to work in this collaborative process where the attorneys are agreeing not to litigate.


So it took about five years for me to get the training, become a collaborative lawyer, get so fed up with my litigation cases and realizing I couldn't really, from day to day, it was really hard for me to take a have a litigation hat on one case and then put the collaborative hat on and I just felt so much more comfortable collaborating and working in a nonadversary way and I just decided I'm not taking anymore.


It was my nearest resolution one year in 2009. I said I'm not taking more contested litigation you know, contested divorces anymore. And now I haven't been in a courtroom. I looked at my court pass recently and I think I was supposed to get it renewed in 2014 and I didn't get it renewed then. So it was some time before that, but it's been more than 10 years that I've been in a courthouse because I just I wanted to help people and I knew court was the worst place for families and I just didn't want to do it anymore. So my whole firm now and all the attorneys that work here are committed to keeping our clients out of court.

Karen Covy Host03:58

That is amazing. And now I've got so many questions, but I want to back up a little bit. First, you mentioned collaborative divorce and you mentioned the training that lawyers get. Now, a lot of people you know people who are facing divorce think that collaborative divorce is just divorcing nicely or collaborating when you're going through a divorce. What is a collaborative divorce and what does that really mean?

Andrea Vacca Guest04:27

Okay, yes, so you can collaborate, and that has a definition in Webster's dictionary. But collaborative divorce is a formal process that has certain principles that must be met in order for it to be a collaborative divorce. So what that means is that the attorneys have to be trained in the collaborative process. That means that you're signing a what we call a participation agreement, where the attorneys are agreeing with these clients that we will never go to court with you, so everybody is on the same page. It's also a team approach, so it has a mental health professional on the team and a financial professional on the team. So it's a holistic approach to divorce where we're dealing with the legal, emotional and financial issues so that none of them hijack the other. So you have to have an attorney and all the other professionals trained in this process so we know how to work together Right, so the clients are involved in the process.


They're advocating for themselves with their attorneys by their side, so it offers more support than mediation would provide. But it's you're not going to court, you're making. This couple is making the decision for themselves, and so a lot of the negotiations are happening with the clients in the room, or the Zoom room, as it may be. We're not sending letters back and forth between the lawyers and a traditional negotiation, and the children are always front and center. We make sure the children are priority. And then the other principle is that there'll be full financial disclosure, complete transparency, and you have there's no threats, no duress. We sign an agreement, a six-page agreement in New York, to all these agreements and principles, before we can call it a collaborative divorce.

Karen Covy Host06:17

You know, you bring up a really interesting point that I don't think the general public is aware of, which is the fact that, in order to be a part of the true collaborative divorce process, the professionals in that process receive extensive special training, right? So my question would be if I'm a consumer, I'm just a person, and I want a divorce, how do I know whether the attorney that I'm going to going to is really trained in collaborative divorce, or they just call themselves collaborative because, as a professional, I have seen that happen before? How do I know if an attorney or anyone else that's part of the process has really been trained?

Andrea Vacca Guest07:02

You can ask them, and I see it more and more lately. You know a lot of attorneys are getting smart because they know the public is really likes this idea and so they'll say, oh sure, I collaborate, and they think they mean that means I can settle my cases without court. Very different, because how you divorce is really matters. And if you're doing it by threats and duress that you might pound somebody into submission, but that's not a collaborative divorce. But going back to your question, how do you know? You ask have you been trained in the collaborative process? Are you a trained mediator? That's the two things. You have to be trained as a mediator and as a collaborative attorney. When did you do your training? Have you had any advanced training? Somebody might say, oh yeah, I got trained 15 years ago. Well, do you do this work? How many collaborative cases have you had in the last year or two? So these are just the really simple questions you can ask. But it starts with were you formerly trained as a collaborative lawyer?

Karen Covy Host08:04

Yeah, I couldn't agree more, because I've been involved in cases where both my client and the spouse want a collaborative divorce, but the spouse hires a lawyer who says exactly what you said oh yeah, I can collaborate, which is a very, very different thing than actually understanding what the collaborative process is. And then what happens is you don't get a true collaborative divorce and you end up with kind of a mess on your hands. What about? I know you were the president of the Collaborative Professionals Organization in New York. Is that another good way for people to find collaboratively trained professionals?

Andrea Vacca Guest08:49

Yes, Go to your local practice group. Ours is, but every metropolitan region, depending on where you are in the country, will have a collaborative professionals organization. It might be statewide, it might be city-wide or regional, but that's where you should start. And those people that are members of that group you know they're committed to the collaborative divorce process, they're getting training, they have relationships with other professionals so they can work well together. That's a huge indicator of somebody who takes this seriously and knows what they're doing.

Karen Covy Host09:29

Yeah, and you bring up another good point too is that they take the collaborative process seriously and they work well with other collaborative professionals. I know a lot of people think that they want two lawyers who don't get along, who aren't really friendly, because they have this idea that their lawyer is selling them out behind their back, that they're selling them short. I can see by the look on your face you're nodding your head. Where am I going wrong with this kind of thinking? Tell me Right.

Andrea Vacca Guest10:05

And I know you're not personally going wrong, but this is what clients, if they're afraid and scared and unsure and they've had a very high-conflict marriage, they might feel like. I don't want anyone who's going to think that my spouse is the good guy here because he's the bad guy. She's the bad guy. So I need someone who gets me and is my attorney and I don't want those attorneys palling around and caring more about whether they can still have drinks together and have a friendship versus our relationship, because I need somebody to protect me. The normal thought, initial thought but that knight in shining armor that's going to go to battle for you is really probably not looking out for your best interests. In the end, they think they know what you want, but if they're going on your anger and they're going to create an agreement based on this very limited view of how you see yourself and your future right now, it's going to be very much based on the past. You want attorneys that can help you look forward. Where do you want to go? Not what, who did what to who, but if you can get out of that conversation and look forward.


And you want attorneys that can talk to each other and say, look, this is what's most important to my client today and what they want out of this agreement that we're negotiating. What does your client want? How can we find a way for both of them to get what they need? It's not about selling you short or throwing you under the bus and only caring about what your spouse wants. It's really funny in agreement that will work for both of you, and think about in the long run how much better that will be for you and if you have children, if you both can walk away from this marriage thinking I did the best I could, I got the most I could, we're both going to be OK. This agreement can be followed and will be complied with, because no one gave up everything for the other person. No one told someone what to do when they weren't prepared to do it. There are so many benefits to the attorneys being able to talk and communicate well so that you can have the best divorce you can have.

Karen Covy Host12:25

Yeah, I couldn't agree more, and I think one of the things that people don't think about is that when you have attorneys who don't get along fundamentally, attorneys who are fighting each other or don't like each other don't work well together what's happening is that everything takes longer, everything is a fight and you, as the client, are paying for that fight. You're paying for the lawyers to not get along. So even though and I agree with you on first blush your gut reaction is no, they should. I don't want my lawyer palling around with the other lawyer, but when you stop and you actually think about it, you really want attorneys and professionals all the way around who actually can work together and do get along. That ends up costing you less, creating less conflict and drama and making the whole process easier. But you mentioned, too, not just attorneys, but a team. Now I know that collaborative divorce uses a team approach. Can you say more about that?

Andrea Vacca Guest13:36

Yeah, sure. So most typically in a collaborative divorce there's two other professionals as part of the team. There's a mental health professional who's usually a licensed marriage and family therapist, or maybe has a psychologist with a PhD, but they have a therapeutic background and they have become mediators and they've taken the collaborative training. Their role as part of the collaborative process is to help the couple manage their emotions, communicate effectively with each other and perhaps with their attorneys or the other professionals that they have to work with, and they provide a lot of value if you have children, because they can help you negotiate the parenting plan. You usually don't need two lawyers talking about where the children will be living, what the holiday schedule will be, how you'll make decisions. These are not legal issues unless you don't agree. So you should try to work with the mental health professional Probably that's child development training and a lot of experience but to try to figure out what that plan will look like, how to make decisions together, what the best schedule should be, based on their ages. So that saves couples a lot of money by having a mental health professional charging, let's say, $400 an hour, instead of a lawyer charging six or two lawyers talking about these issues, who are charging $500 to $700 an hour or whatever. The price will be different based on where you live, of course, but there's a big difference in how we charge for our time. So that's the mental health professional and the role that they play. They'll be in the room with us. They'll be at the meetings. If they see a lot of conflict, they'll take can we go out of the room? Can we talk? You know they'll help to keep the emotions managed so that they don't hijack decision making. Huge, huge benefit.


The financial professional usually comes from one of two backgrounds. They're a CPA. You know, if there's a lot of tax issues, we might want a CPA on the team, or a certified divorce financial analyst, which is a CDFA, and so these people will help figure out. Look at the budgets, make sure the budgets are accurate, future looking budgets not just what were you spending during the marriage, but what do you need in the future for two homes. What will the children need? The financial professional will look at all the assets. Make sure we have everything valued properly and how will we divide everything in the most tax effective way and to meet the needs of? You know, maybe one person wants to keep the home. What do you have to trade off for that in an equitable way? So having the financial neutral again, you're paying one professional at their rate rather than two lawyers to do work that's not really in our expertise. You know, we're not trained to do finances. We can do it, but we're not the best people really to be doing it.

Karen Covy Host16:41

Yeah, so that's the core. You know, collaborative team is to collaboratively trained lawyers, a mental health professional and a financial professional. But there's also a hallmark of the collaborative process, which is also one of the reasons why many lawyers do not want to sign that participation agreement that you talked about, which is that if the couple doesn't reach an agreement, for whatever reason, if collaborative divorce doesn't work for them, all of the professionals withdraw and the couple has to start again with litigation attorneys and go through the court system, right. So I know that's a provision that really trips up a lot of people. They kind of go why would I ever do that, right? And so I'm going to ask you that question why would anyone ever do that?

Andrea Vacca Guest17:37

You know it's very fear based to approach your clients like that. And I will start to say, historically and statistically, it's my understanding and in my own practice I could say only about 10% of the cases that start in a collaborative process do not end collaboratively. I think our statistics are even lower than that, but internationally that's what the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals has determined Very low rate, very high rate of success 90%. Pretty good. So for an attorney or even the client to say, but I don't want to lose my lawyer if you're not fully in it. If the attorney has not signed on to collaborative, you have to be. Let me put it differently you have to be completely signed on to the collaborative process, to give it your all. The attorney can't have a fear of falling apart. That's not even entering our mind. We're going to help you come to an agreement. So we're never halfway, one foot in the door and one foot out of the door in the collaborative process. We are all in. We're going to bring all the tools that we have and all the skills that we have, all the motivation we have, to try to help you find that agreement that works for you, because you have to sign this thing, not us have to work for you and your spouse so you can move on with your life.


If you hire an attorney that's so afraid of losing your case, they're going to make a lot more money if you litigate. So where do you think how hard are they going to try to settle this? They're just drumming up the bills, making weird allegations, taking the case personally. That makes them a lot more money. So that's why you should do it, and that's why I think attorneys should do it, because you're going to have happier clients. These clients are more satisfied. No one's telling them what to do. They've made this decision and you can sleep better at night. People, I mean, you've done well. You've done something good for somebody by helping them reach an agreement in this kind of way. Yeah.

Karen Covy Host19:47

I think you bring up a really interesting point and it's something that most attorneys never talk about because we're all up in our head all the time. But it's the energy, the mindset that you as a professional, or even you as a client, bring into the process, that if you always have that plan B, if you always have that back door open and you know that you can slide out the back door and go to court and fight if you want to, that changes the negotiation. It changes the system when you're all sitting around in a room together trying to work things out, if you know that you have a way out in case things don't work right.

Andrea Vacca Guest20:31

Right and I have to say for the clients we have that can't settle collaboratively. There's usually a couple of reasons why. Either there's been a very serious mental health issue that we might not have realized or has gotten worse, or an addiction issue that can't be overcome, excuse me and those people need a judge sometimes to help them. It's not like your average reasonable couple who are trying their best and maybe have a lot of conflict, are really angry and upset with each other. There was this trust like that's nothing. We can help you. They don't need a judge. It's the more mentally ill or addicted people or that can't help themselves and then they need a judge. That's the cases that collaborators sometimes can't help. That's it. Everyone else we can help.

Karen Covy Host21:34

So if you are in a marriage and these days a lot of people either are or think they are married to narcissists- and narcissism is a mental health, that's a personality disorder, right? And so should those people who are married to a narcissist whether they're diagnosed or undiagnosed, but we'll call it a high conflict personality, right? Should they even think about collaborative divorce? Would that be better for them? I've had a lot of clients ask me hey, my spouse is really, really difficult. Is this a good process for me? What would you say?

Andrea Vacca Guest22:14

Here's my lawyer answer. It depends, right, because I just had Wendy Bihari on my podcast and she wrote a book called Disarming the Narcissist and we were talking about this and, yeah, she just. The third edition just came out and there's a whole section on co-parenting with a narcissist that I recommend that for anyone listening, pick up that book. But it's never black and white. As to the level of narcissism, there's a range.


People can have narcissistic tendencies to being like you know, hitting all 12 points or whatever the number is right. So where do they fall on a scale? And you might need more of a team, you know, depending. So if there's certain people that we know off the bat they will never agree, they have to be right all the time. They're gonna need a judge to tell them what to do. We don't take those cases. But however you divorce a narcissist, it's gonna be hell and it's gonna take forever and it's gonna cost more than you think. It doesn't matter what process you choose. They will make your life miserable, no matter what process court or collaboration or negotiation the only thing I'll say is do not mediate with a narcissist.

Karen Covy Host23:32

Why not?

Andrea Vacca Guest23:33

Because, well, in New York anyway, you're on your own. You don't have attorneys in the room with you. I know in other states you have attorneys in the room. In New York typically you don't. So I would not want to. If you have a huge power imbalance and the narcissism has caused a huge power imbalance in your relationship, mediation probably isn't the best option for you. So I'll just put that out there.

Karen Covy Host23:55

But yeah, I agree with you and collaborative divorce. I mean, if you've got someone who, whether it's narcissism or borderline or whatever, the mental health issue or personality disorder that they have or may have is right In collaborative you, theoretically you have a mental health professional in the room helping you. So as long as you've got, you're married to someone who is capable of making an agreement, they're not just gonna say no, I won't agree to anything. In that case, the only way to get divorced is to go to a judge. But if you don't have that person any other kind of mental illness, I think it's helpful to have the mental health professional there assisting you as you go through the process. I don't know what do you think about that?

Andrea Vacca Guest24:50

Oh, definitely. That's why I think collaborative is a better option than negotiation or mediation, because you have a mental health professional on the team and sometimes in these cases we'll want two mental health professionals, because there's especially with borderline personality and sometimes narcissism, there's a lot of splitting. Like they won't. If they see somebody being very understanding of their spouse, they'll think they're against them, right? It's very black and white on how they view professionals. So if I have a couple where I hear that my client's spouse has regularly fired couple therapists throughout the marriage, I will say you know what? I don't think we should have a neutral mental health professional. I think we should have two. We each have your own and those mental health professionals can work together because you might need your own advocate. So I like to tailor that I'll bring into, I'll suggest to, in a situation.

Karen Covy Host25:49

That makes a lot of sense. But I'd like to also pick up on something that there's collaborative divorce in New York. I know there's collaborative divorce in Illinois and the collaborative organization is called, if anyone in Illinois is listening and wants to check them out. But also collaborative exists in more states. I mean, how can a person, if they're thinking about collaborative divorce, what should they do? How do they know if it's a thing in their state?

Andrea Vacca Guest26:22

Yeah, so there's an international academy. I don't know it's not. It's called the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. I'm always forgetting. It's not IACPorg, because that's a professional of police officers or something, but you can Google collaborative divorce organization in my state, in my city, and that should come up and there'll be a list of all the professionals there that are members of that what we call practice groups, because this is an international process. People use it all over the world.

Karen Covy Host26:59

Yeah, I know that it's not available, or I think it's not available in every state, but it's most states. Do you have any idea what the statistics are on that? Is it? Who has it, who doesn't?

Andrea Vacca Guest27:13

I don't know, I don't. I would imagine there's probably someone trained in every state, but whether there's a real practice group, like in, I don't know Wyoming.

Karen Covy Host27:23

I don't like, I don't know.

Andrea Vacca Guest27:24

Yeah, yeah, states with a low concentration of people? I don't know exactly.

Karen Covy Host27:29

I do know this because even within a state, the number of collaboratively trained professionals in an area differs widely. Right, because, like you said, in some less populated excuse me, less populated areas there may be less professionals who do this. But also, you mentioned something way back in the beginning of our interview that you can have meetings on Zoom. So now that Zoom is a thing, as long as you have licensed professionals in your state who will help you and do this collaboratively, I don't think people are as tied to you know their small geographical area as maybe they used to be.

Andrea Vacca Guest28:12

You're so right, like if somebody's in upstate New York, like up in the, you know, really, upstate New York Canadian border. I don't know if there's many collaborative professionals down there, but who cares? You can call an attorney downstate, call our firm, we can help. You know, and the same thing, as long as there's somebody who's licensed in your state, they can, you can work with them. They don't need to be in your city. To be honest, I haven't had a collaborative case in person since COVID. Everything's been online, because it's really hard to bring six people to one meeting place when everyone works and lives in so many different places now or has spread out from the city, you know. So it's all.

Karen Covy Host28:53

It's all online typically, and how do you find that as a professional? Clearly you were doing collaborative towards pre-COVID so, and I was as well, and those were all in-person meetings. So, and you were right, they were often really tough to schedule because you're putting multiple professionals and two clients who also may be working or working. You know, even if they're a stay-at-homes parent, they still have kids to take care of, you know. So you've got to put all these people in a room together, same place, same time. You still have to do that with Zoom, but at least you eliminate the travel. You know, how has that transition to Zoom been for you and your clients?

Andrea Vacca Guest29:36

I really think it's worked well. I mean, those clients didn't have cases generally before, so they've always started online and we have breakout rooms when needed to go off and I can talk to my client in a breakout room. We could take a break. We, you know whatever is needed we can have. We prepare before, we have our debriefs after and everything's happening on Zoom and it works really well. I don't know what.

Karen Covy Host30:06

To look back, you find it as effective as it was in-person, because I know back in the day a lot of people were very reluctant to try to do things on Zoom, which is way more convenient for everybody, professionals and clients. You know both. But they were saying well, you know, I don't know if we can read body language as well. I think maybe. What if we all have to be in the same room? What do you think about that?

Andrea Vacca Guest30:32

I'm sure we're not reading body language as well. There's a give and take here, and I think if you spoke to one of the mental health professionals, they may agree that being on the room might be better, because you can't always see if somebody's crying. Is that a tear, is it? You don't really know. So body language is something that you give up on. At the same time, you can see everyone at once. When you're in a conference room, you can't see everybody at one time and you can't see everybody's face and you can't see. So we're not all facing each other. We're at a long conference table. So there's a give and take, and I think we've adapted, as we have the many things online and on Zoom, and there's trainings on how to do it well on Zoom, and so we've all been learning as we go yeah, how to do this.

Karen Covy Host31:26

So Collaborative uses that team approach. But what would you say to a client who, for whatever reason, they don't want to or can't do collaborative Like, maybe their spouse won't agree to do Collaborative divorce, then they can't do it. It's not an option for them. Ok, can they also put together their own team outside of Collaborative divorce, but to get different professional support as they go through the process. What do you think about that?

Andrea Vacca Guest31:59

I love that team approach to whatever divorce I'm working on, I'll use it in mediation, I'll use it in negotiation. So in a very typical situation, my client retains us. They want to do Collaborative. Their spouse decides to hire an attorney who's not collaboratively trained. So I will call that attorney and say hi, I'm Andrea, we do not litigate. I just want you to understand.


If this case goes to, if anyone files for divorce in a contested divorce, we're going to be stepping out. They will have to hire a new lawyer. So I am committed to settling this. Are you Do you want to settle this too? Or are you thinking this is going to need a court? Because if you're intending to bring this to court, I'm going to tell my client I'm not the right fit. All the time. They usually say no, we want to settle this and that's when I'll bring up OK, I've had a lot of luck.


Like these are the parenting issues I'm hearing about. I don't think it's very complicated. What do you think about bringing in a parenting family specialist, a mental health professional I'll give them different names, different titles but to have them work with the couple on the parenting plan and we can focus on the finances? Or what do you think about bringing in a special financial professional, because it's going to be really complicated and have them do this work. And so I try to get it. Bring in as many neutrals as I can to take it out of that chance of the attorney's butting heads and becoming very positional and adversarial, because that's their natural default. Many of these attorneys, and the more I can get neutrals involved, the better I know the clients will be. So that's what I do. I try my best. Sometimes they agree they don't even understand the role of the neutral, but they'll do it in and we make it work. That's how I do it.

Karen Covy Host33:50

So have you ever been burned Like? Have you ever? Because we all know a variety of attorneys who have different approaches. And have you ever been taken advantage of? Because the one attorney is think your counterpart attorney, the spouse's attorney it says to you, oh yeah, we're going to, we want to agree, we want to settle too. But then you get into the negotiation and if they know, they push hard and they end up going to court. Now your client needs a new lawyer. Have you ever had that come back and bite you?

Andrea Vacca Guest34:31

I wouldn't say they've taken advantage of that situation because they ultimately know, and their client know, that it's going to cost everyone more money, so their client wants them to settle. They don't typically want to go to court, so typically I haven't had them take advantage of that fact. They might think, oh, I'm not going to make as much money on this case as I could have, but they're not. Very rarely do I see people pushing for court when there's no reason to. I think their better self take over and they realize it's probably best to get this resolved. I'd best for everybody. But I have had some attorneys that are just gung-ho. We're going to litigate. My client shouldn't be making any agreements. I want to judge telling him what to do, or telling your client what to do, because that's the only way I do it. So it's just too bad. That's who the person hired. Just a bad choice of attorneys.

Karen Covy Host35:39

We all know the attorneys who have a reputation for being the litigators. That's all they do primarily. I mean, yes, they might advise a client through mediation, but that's not their strong suit. These are the bulldogs. These are the attorneys who are very difficult to get along with. And what would happen if a client comes into you and says I really want to hire you, I want to stay out of court. Here's my husband's lawyer, and you see the name and you know that lawyer is not going to stay out of court. What do you do?

Andrea Vacca Guest36:16

I will refer them to somebody else. I will refer them to an attorney that I know is very settlement-oriented, but can go right up, go toe-to-toe with this other attorney. That's what I'll do.

Karen Covy Host36:29

And I think that's important for people to know and to hear it's that you want somebody who is going to be reasonable under any circumstances. However, if your client, just if your spouse, just hired the shark litigator and you hire somebody who just mediates, that is not going to go well for you.

Andrea Vacca Guest36:57

Yes, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes, even if these people can be the shark litigators, I've been able to work with them. So it's not every litigator we can't work with, but some people just know the reputation. You have the experience If you went far between and New York's full of those types of lawyers, but maybe because there's so many lawyers people who can make better choices. So, yes, you want to have a lawyer that will be honest with you and if they're not the right fit for you, they'll tell you, help you find somebody who is.


Yeah, one thing that we're doing with our clients if they really want to do collaborative but their spouse doesn't know if they want to they don't know about this process. They were referred to somebody else we might offer like a 15 minute conversation with both of them so we can explain the process. We're not trying to get any personal information, it's really just a process conversation so they can ask questions about it. We can tell them where to go to find a lawyer, a collaborative lawyer like to the organization, and that has helped too. Another thing I'll do is send them to a mental health professional, have them sit down with the family specialist that's what we call them in New York, and have the family specialist explain the process, talk about why it would be best for their children and then help the other spouse find an attorney. That's been very successful as well.

Karen Covy Host38:29

That makes sense. So how do you if you've got a client who comes into your office and I know you don't do litigation, so you're never going to help them decide whether they should do that. But how do you if people are saying well, I don't know if I should mediate or do collaborative divorce or just try to work this out on my own with my spouse, because many people try to do that? How do you help them make that decision?

Andrea Vacca Guest38:58

Well, I want to know more about their dynamic with their spouse. First of all, how comfortable. If mediation is a wonderful process, it's just not always the right one. So let's start there. Can you mediate? Can you advocate for yourself? Do you have, how? Is there any imbalance in emotional regulation and communication style, in financial information? That just would not make you feel safe in the room Not that you're going to be injured, but that you're not going to be able to say what you need, ask the questions you need to ask. Can you be comfortable alone with the mediator and your spouse and get everything handled? Some people can do it and that's great. So let's talk about it. And it depends on the level of conflict, on the complicated issues, who their spouse is. So there's all the. We want to ask a lot of questions, very specific, right, If mediation is not. If mediation is right, we'll help them find a mediator, We'll give them recommendations to find a mediator.


If mediation is not right, then collaborative is the next thing we'll talk about. Would it be better for you to have your advocate, your attorney, by your side, who knows how to advocate without being adversarial? What are your goals? Do you want a decent relationship with your spouse. Do you want, will you need, a co-parent in the future? So, would the team approach help your situation? Do you appreciate that that team approach would help your situation? Will you accept the help of others? So we'll talk about that. And who is your spouse going to hire? Will they hire a collaborative lawyer? So, and how do you get them to find out? You know how can you talk to them about the process you think is best. That's the next step. So what do you want to do? And then how? What are the talking points you need to have to get your spouse on board?

Karen Covy Host40:55

And as a collaboratively trained lawyer, you know, is that something that you help your clients? You give them talking points and say you know, and maybe even give them recommendations of other collaborative attorneys and say, here, this is what you give your spouse yes, we'll say you know, you've told me, client, that it's really important to you to have a good working relationship with your ex of you.

Andrea Vacca Guest41:21

You know, because your children are young, you have a lot of years to do this. You've told me you. You want to be able to find a solution where you're both living relatively close to each other. You don't want to burn through too much money. You want to be able to have a decent relationship with your in-laws. Whatever it is that's important to you. These are the things I want you to share with him or her and tell them that this process can help you have that and that you want to know what's important to them. What do they want? And your attorney is going to want to know that too. So it depends on. Every case is different. There's no set points, but we'll tailor it to whoever we're talking to.

Karen Covy Host42:00

That's awesome. Well, Andrea, I'd like to end by throwing you a curveball, if you're up for it. Because this podcast deals not just with divorce, but also with decision making, and we've talked about some of the decisions that people have to make in terms of choosing process. But I always like to end and ask my guests what is the hardest decision that you've had to make, or one of the hardest decisions in your life that you've faced that you've had to make, and how did you make it?

Andrea Vacca Guest42:34

You know, I think choosing continuing to choose to have a non-adversarial divorce practice it has been not I can't say it's the hardest decision I have had to make, but it's. We're always coming. It's not the easiest decision to have made and live with. On one hand, yeah, it is easy. So I don't know if I'm answering your question but we're different. You know, choosing to be different, choosing to be, knowing who we are and who you're not, it's very freeing in some ways, but it's also very you have to really double down and commit to it right and do it right and do it.


So it takes a lot of work to be this kind of firm. I have to hire the right people, from the support staff to the attorneys. I have to have the mindset of myself. I always have to be working on myself in order to bring my best to the case. And it's hard, it's really hard sometimes, but that decision was a very. A lot of people don't do it or can't do it, but I would love for more people to make this decision like I did. So apparently it looks like it was hard, but it's also I'm really proud of it that I've chosen this kind of practice and I'm just honored that people work with us and hire us and trust us to help them, so it was all good to make this decision.

Karen Covy Host44:10

That's amazing.


It's awesome, and I know that a lot of attorneys and different divorce professionals because I've been in the business for, we'll just say, a few decades, but they would, you know, a lot of them have come to me because I stayed out of court towards the end of the career, as a lawyer and as a coach.


I help people stay out of court as well, and a lot of attorneys would like to do that, but I think they're afraid that they won't get enough business to pay the bills if they turn away the litigation cases. And that's something that you're actively doing. Like if somebody comes in and says I want to go to court, you have to be able to look at them and say I'm not the lawyer for you. Go down the street and hire somebody else, and that takes, I think, a tremendous amount of courage and faith that there are enough people who don't want to fight, that you, you know you'll have the clients to help and that you can do it in a better way and a way that's true to yourself. So I think that's phenomenal.

Andrea Vacca Guest45:16

Thank you so much, Karen. Yeah, I appreciate that.

Karen Covy Host45:20

So, with all of that having been said, can you tell people where's the best place to find you?

Andrea Vacca Guest45:26

Yeah, the best place to find us is on our website, vaccalawcom.  You can catch up on all our blogs there, videos and on my podcast, you know. You can also get access to that too. You can contact us through there. So that's the best resource, vaccalawcom.

Karen Covy Host45:47

Awesome. So if you're out there listening and you are in the New York area and you want to divorce collaboratively or use mediation or do anything to stay out of court, then it sounds like vaccalaw is the firm for you and for those of you who are out there listening or watching the video. Please, if you like what you've heard, if you like what you see, I ask you, please like the video, like this episode, subscribe. It means the world to us and I will see you again next time.

Head shot of Karen Covy in an Orange jacket smiling at the camera with her hand on her chin.

Karen Covy is a Divorce Coach, Lawyer, Mediator, Author, and Speaker. She coaches high net worth professionals and successful business owners to make hard decisions about their marriage with confidence, and to navigate divorce with dignity.  She speaks and writes about decision-making, divorce, and living life on your terms. To connect with Karen and discover how she can help you, CLICK HERE.


collaborative divorce, divorce process, off the fence podcast

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