Divorce Without Conflict

A practitioner of ‘non-hostile family law,’ attorney Lillian Quinn uses mediation techniques to lessen the stress divorce places on a family, especially one with children.

In 2003 when attorney Lillian Quinn set out her shingle in Bend for “Non-Hostile Family Law,” other attorneys snickered. You can’t have non-hostile divorce, they told her. “They all looked at me like I was a kook,” she said.

There were few role models when she started, but Quinn knew she had to find a way to approach family law that didn’t tear families apart, sometimes messing up the kids in the process. So, she pursued her goal of assisting with divorce in a less adversarial way.

Four years later, Quinn has a thriving practice that will not litigate or become involved in custody trials.

But Quinn, a 1999 graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School, didn’t always aspire to practice family law this way. “When I first started law school, I was loving and wanting to be Perry Mason,” she said.

But after being involved with a few misdemeanor and criminal cases, this former high school English and drama teacher soon learned that she didn’t like that aspect of the law.

“What I found out about myself is that I really don’t like conflict at all, which is surprising because that is what the nature of my business is,” Quinn said.

So, this happily married, never-divorced mother of three girls decided that when she resumed her career after the birth of her children, she would practice family law in a more civil manner.

At the time, she recalled an article she had read in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin about nontraditional family law. The article talked about “unbundling” legal services, which meant that you didn’t have to provide all the services involved in getting a divorce. You could pick and choose. So, that’s what Quinn decided to do.

Today her practice consists of about 90 percent “limited legal representation” services and 10 percent mediation services. When she’s wearing her attorney hat, she can represent only one of the spouses but likes to have an initial consultation with both to give them information about how the process will work.

“I want them to know that I am not a shark attorney that’s going to try and take them to the cleaners,” she said.

Quinn uses mediation when a couple is having trouble agreeing on certain items during the divorce. She meets with both to try and find common ground. Once they have reached agreement, she sends them to another attorney to draw up the papers.

Using the other attorney allows her to remain neutral, which is essential in conducting mediation. Quinn said that many of her clients have been married for many years and have no interest in an adversarial approach to their divorce. Most of these clients are still talking to each other and remain on friendly terms long after the divorce is granted.

That had been the case for Peggy Munday and her ex-husband, who remain friends today. After 17 years of marriage that produced two children, the couple decided to divorce. They didn’t want a big fight, nor did they want to pay attorneys to fight for them, so they chose Quinn to help them through the divorce process.

Munday and her husband knew Quinn through their church, where Quinn was a Sunday school teacher. “It’s really more of a heart thing for Lil than it is a business,” said Munday. “She wanted what is best for the family and the kids.”

Deschutes Country Circuit Court Judge, Michael Sullivan, said that when people have input into a solution, they are far more satisfied with the results and are more likely to make a greater effort to ensure success. He said Quinn “fills a unique approach within the justice system.”

There is a growing movement among attorneys to approach family law in a less adversarial way. Some attorneys only do mediation, some like Quinn, limit the type of legal services they offer, and others use “collaborative practice” which is a team approach.

In this model, the clients, their attorneys, and other professionals are all seated at the table and work together to problem solve. Team members may include financial analysts, or if there are minor children, child therapists.

No matter which type of non-hostile approach chosen when a couple goes through one of life’s most difficult processes, the goal of all of these models is to resolve disputes respectfully with the least amount of disruption to the children.

As Quinn pointed out, “You are still a family – even if you get a divorce – until you get those kids out of the nest. It’s much better if you can be decent to each other.”