The Great Collaborator
Attorney Tiffany Thomas-Smith practices a family-first approach to divorce known as collaborative law
by Bill Donahue

Divorce by its very nature tends to pull families apart. Yet Tiffany Thomas-Smith, an attorney focused on helping clients through divorce and other matters related to family law, champions the benefits of collaborative law, a unique approach to keeping families strong in the aftermath of a marriage’s dissolution.

“Early on in my career I found myself dealing with custody, support, equitable distribution and all matters of divorce litigation, and I saw a lack of ability to come to a fundamental resolution,” says Thomas-Smith, whose firm is based in Yardley. “I realized that even though parties involved in a divorce would no longer be married, they still have a connection to the family, and that’s what drew me to collaborative law. Now I’m able to do law the way I think it should be done. I’m still confined to the statutes, codes and procedures, but how I reach resolution for my clients is completely different.”

Thomas-Smith describes collaborative law as “an innovative way to resolve family law disputes” designed to maintain a sense of respect, civility and mutual understanding throughout the divorce process. Recognized globally and first developed in the United States by attorney Stuart G. Webb, author of “The Collaborative Way to Divorce,” collaborative law requires parties and their respective attorneys to enter into a participation agreement that, among other things, includes a pledge to stay out of the courtroom.

“Unfortunately, most divorce matters are handled based on the existing statutes set in place by the legislature, and the options for parties to come to an amicable resolution are somewhat limited,” she says. “If people don’t know [collaborative law] is an option, they may think they don’t have an alternative. When a client comes to me and asks me about the best way to proceed with a divorce, a lot of times they are understandably very angry. I explain to them that, yes, those are real feelings, but at the end of the day you’re going to be living a long time and your relationship with this person will need to stay intact in some way, especially when there are children involved. 

“In other words,” she continues, “even though you’re divorcing the person, you don’t divorce the family. I try to make my clients look towards the future; when this is all over, this person is going to be part of your life and you’re still parents to your children. Fifteen or 20 years from now, when you’re at your daughter’s wedding, do you want to sit on the same side of the aisle as this person even though you’re no longer married?”

In situations where parties can agree to participate in the collaborate process, collaborative law often provides optimal results, in a time frame that’s controlled by the divorcing parties, as opposed to litigation, where the parties will have no control over the timeline or the result. “That in and of itself is often enough to make people to say, ‘This is my life, and I want to be able to have control over the process,’” Thomas-Smith says.

Because not every client is a model for collaborative law, The Thomas Smith Firm, P.C. also provides clients the option of representation when litigating the case in court. Regardless of the type of case, Thomas-Smith sees her role as someone who can “inform, educate and advocate” for her clients. Katie Wolper, who serves as an assistant in the firm, highlights Thomas-Smith’s “respect, compassion and empathy in how she deals with clients” as unique attributes that further set her apart from other attorneys.

“I try to put myself in the position of the client,” Thomas-Smith says. “Once I know the problem, I inform them about what their options are, what the law is and why I’m the best person to help them. Once I’m comfortable and they’re comfortable, I’ll educate them, explaining the roles of the other individuals involved. People ask me questions such as ‘Do I file a separation agreement?’ or ‘Do I file today?’ or ‘Does it matter who files first?’ and I help them gain that understanding. When they hire me, I then become their advocate to help them reach the best resolution possible.”

Although Thomas-Smith’s firm focuses on cases related primarily to family law, her practice also covers other areas of the law, such as estate planning, adoptions and small-business law. Thomas-Smith, a married mother of two sons, earned her bachelor’s in history from Duke University in Durham, N.C., and her Juris Doctor from Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. In practice for more than 15 years and licensed in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, she founded her firm as a client-centered practice dedicated to family law, small business and estate-planning issues. Prior to founding her own firm, she served as an associate at notable firms in Bucks County, as law clerk in Superior Court of New Jersey and the Associate Public Defender in Philadelphia County. 

Staying Protected
Another unique aspect of collaborative law is that divorcing parties work not only with their respective attorneys but also with other professionals—among them, a child specialist, a coach to help parties navigate the “landscape of change in their lives,” and a financial neutral, which is a specialist who makes sure the parties’ assets are preserved and distributed the best or most equitable way possible. The results of this team approach, in most cases, are lower costs, reduced stress and, in the end, happier families.

“Each person involved has a defined role,” she says. “My role is to represent the client’s interests to the best of my ability and make sure he or she is protected. I can do that by working with the rest of the team to make sure the results are satisfactory. Parties pledge not litigate the dispute in court, to openly and honestly exchange information, and to achieve these solutions by prioritizing what’s best for them, what’s best for their children and what’s best for the family as a whole. Even though they have gone through the dissolution of their marriage, at the conclusion of every case, it’s family first.”

And, most times, divorcing parties who go the collaborative route feel better about the process—and, in some cases, about each other.

“Sometimes a party understandably may need some additional therapy or counseling to ensure they are healing those wounds,” she adds. “In all the years I’ve litigated, I’ve never had a client call me and say they are concerned over the opposing party not following through on therapy. One of my collaborative clients called once and asked me to follow up to make sure [her ex-husband] was getting the help he needs. She said, ‘I want him to still be a good dad for our kids,’ and that, to me, is remarkable.”

In addition to her active schedule meeting with and representing clients, Thomas-Smith continues to hone her skills through education and affiliations with prominent organizations such as the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals ( and, closer to home, the Bucks County Collaborative Law Group (

“I have always sought out a way to do my job better,” she says. “You really have to care to be able to do this kind of work, and you have to do it well because you’re going to be impacting your clients’ lives tremendously. This [collaborative law] process enables me to do my job better, which is critical because people are entrusting me with their family.”

The Thomas Smith Firm P.C.
777 Township Line Road, Suite 260
Yardley, PA 19067
Phone: 215-860-3747
Fax: 215-860-3758

Rob Hall is a photographer based in Plumsteadville.