Tess Congo

/ Colorado Best Lawyers 2017

Mediation allows special issues to be carefully reviewed and resolved. How might divorce between parents of a special needs child work? Do specific provisions need to be made when alcohol abuse comes into play? Do parents want to provide college money for their children? What will happen to a shared business? Joan H. McWilliams, president and founder of McWilliams Mediation Group, helps parties answer these questions and incorporate the conclusions into a plan that carefully outlines strategies for successful co-parenthood or business co-management.

“Our adversarial system isn’t very well-designed for divorce cases,” says McWilliams. “Once you go into court, one person has to prove that they’re right, and the other person has to prove that they’re wrong. This often increases hostility.”

In mediation, clients are encouraged to voice their concerns in a peaceful environment conducive to producing positive solutions. Whether the parties elect to meet together or separately, McWilliams has the conference rooms to accommodate either preference.

“The magic of mediation lies in the design. The parties control the process and are the ultimate decision makers,” says McWilliams.

While McWilliams helps separating parents devise plans for their families and finances, she also passionately advocates for amplifying children’s voices during mediation. “In the adversarial system, children are really lost. Their voices are rarely heard,” McWilliams says. “Mediation is good because you can figuratively bring the kids to the table. In mediation, we can talk specifically about what they need and what the parents need to do to meet those needs so that they can leave with guidelines for raising their children and keeping them away from the conflict.”

“Our adversarial system isn’t very well-designed for divorce cases.”

In striving to protect children from the harmful effects of divorce, McWilliams devoted a year to creating a proposal to amend a comment to a rule in the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 2.1, titled “Advisor,” states that lawyers may refer to the law when advising clients as well as refer to “moral, economic, social, and political factors that may be relevant to the client’s situation.” McWilliams’ proposal encourages attorneys to advise divorcing or separating clients with children that parental conflicts can have significant adverse effects on the children, which had not been explicitly stated before. “Divorce may hurt children a little bit, or it may hurt them a lot, but it’s a pain that they carry throughout their lives, and we can avoid that,” says McWilliams.

On December 1, 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court approved McWilliams’ proposed amendment, making it the first state in the country to include such a provision in the Rules of Professional Conduct.

First listed in Best Lawyers in 2005, McWilliams has been honored as a “Lawyer of the Year” twice in family law mediation. She was recognized by Super Lawyers in 2016 and as Law Week Colorado’s 2016 Barrister’s Best Mediator. McWilliams has also been awarded the 2016 Richard N. Doyle CLE Award of Excellence, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Outstanding Alumni Professional Award, and the Colorado Bar Association’s Family Law Icon Award. She has also taken her vast experience and knowledge in mediation to the press with two books: Parenting Plans for Families after Divorce and the award-winning The PeaceFinder: Riley McFee’s Quest for World Peace.