As a child, watching helplessly as the fabric of her family unraveled with each bang of the gavel, Ashley-Nicole Russell decided that she would change the way divorce was handled in America.
Present day, Russell has over a decade of experience as a family law attorney based in Greenville, N.C.
She has never again set foot inside a court room for family law matters.
Throughout her professional career, Russell chose to forgo the path of traditional litigation and immerse herself in the world of collaborate law — focusing on keeping the family unit intact while going through divorce proceedings. Russell is now an award-winning attorney, owner of several North-Carolina based law firms, author of “The Cure for Divorce Culture,” and host of the “Divorce, Healthy!” podcast.
Russell began her involvement with the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals Organization (IACP), in 2011, and has since revolutionized the practice of collaborative law in North Carolina.
Throughout Russell’s time as a collaborative professional, she has seen IACP’s members grow from 100 to 2,200, as collaborative law gained traction across the globe. On Jan. 4, 2023, Russell announced that IACP has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for its international efforts in collaborative law.
“It’s just amazing, because when collaborative started, there were a lot of naysayers,” Russell said. “Now, to be here and see that it did produce the results is just really beautiful.”
Collaborative law focuses on resolving legal disputes within families while staying out of court. The collaborative approach doesn’t just involve lawyers but also includes mental health and financial professionals to support and educate clients throughout the process.
Throughout her career, Russell has been able to use her experience as child of a traditional divorce, to provide the perspective of and advocate for children with separating parents.
According to Russell, statistics show that children who watch their parents undergo traditional divorce proceedings are more likely to experience fear of commitment, emotional immaturity and financial instability well into their adult years, increasing likelihood of suicide, divorce, and substance abuse.
“Collaborative allows families to settle their disputes out of court and maintain that respect,” Russell said. “The respect within the family is what we’ve seen lead to healthy adult children out of divorce. Studying the change in what adulthood looks like for children of a families who choose collaborative divorce has been really beautiful. We’re making a generational change around how families proceed after the divorce is done.”
According to Russell, the law system is not designed to take on family matters and tends to cause a significant amount of turmoil in families who choose the route of traditional litigation.
“It doesn’t make sense to have two different people competing against each other to create a solution for a family, because a family has to have connection and respect,” Russell said. “The role of the law format is to pit one side against the other, so when you try to place the family unit in the civil world of law, the family struggles.”
Collaborative law focuses on removing families from the litigative process, understanding communication practices and psychology that go into conflict resolution, and in turn, has yielded many positive results for families, and has now received global recognition for its impact through IACP’s nomination of a Nobel Peace Prize.
“It is something that people were very drawn to and wanted and needed,” Russell said. “It created members of society on the other side of divorce that were still happy and healthy and on the same side of the ball field. People saw that. They saw that it was different, and amazing.”