When clients are deciding on which process to choose for their divorce, collaboration can seem daunting due to the costs involved. Collaborative divorce is a team approach to divorce. Each client has his/her own attorney. There is one financial neutral, and depending on the case, one or two coaches. The attorneys are a necessity, however the clients may wonder why they need the other professionals. The advantage of working with a team is that each member provides a different contribution to moving the case forward. The concern is the financial commitment. Each professional has his/her own special area of expertise to offer the couple. Each professional must be paid for his/her services. What is the contribution of the financial neutral and the coach?
Financial professionals offer a different skill set and base of knowledge than the attorneys have. They have more in-depth financial training than the attorneys and can provide different scenarios to the clients based on what their needs and interests are. The financial professional is able to answer questions about what the future, including retirement, will look like for each individual. They are much more familiar with the ins and outs of social security and also have a different perspective on finances than the attorneys. As a neutral, the financial professional will not make any recommendations. They will provide only the facts. The attorneys are in a better position to help their clients make decisions as the picture is clearer. Once the divorce is complete, the financial decisions are permanent, with a few exceptions. It is best to have more information at one’s disposal when making these decisions, rather than less.
The role of the coach is another professional that clients are unfamiliar with and one which they are not always in agreement with having on the team. The coach is an invaluable member of the team. The coach is a mental health professional. Most are licensed clinical social workers or psychologists. All mental health professionals must have the most advanced training that their discipline provides in order to function in this role. The coach is there is help the clients learn constructive ways of communicating and constructive ways of dealing with their feelings. Impasse during the process is usually due to unresolved feelings and not the issue at hand. Coaching can occur individually, with the couple, and also occurs during the settlement meetings. Questions such as— Is there a different way you can say that?—can be critical in terms of keeping the couple engaged in the Collaborative process.
The Marital Settlement Agreement encompasses all of the decisions regarding both finances and parenting that are required by the court system. In many cases, the parenting decisions can be completed with the couple in individual sessions with the coach alone. This is an important way of containing costs. It is much more cost effective to pay one mental health professional to complete the parenting plan—Allocation of Parental Responsibilities-than to pay two attorneys. Mental health professionals are very experienced and skilled in working with clients to guide them through this process.
The financial decisions become more overwhelming and frightening for many couples. These are the decisions that are most focused on during the team settlement meetings. The coach has already built up a rapport and a relationship with the couple individually and together. S/he then can teach the couple more effective ways of communicating. The hope is that the communication skills learned can be used moving forward. Most couples have children. Some are young, some are teenagers, and some are adults. All children can benefit by having parents that can get along in a “good enough way”. Parents go to school sponsored activities, sporting events, birthday parties, etc. for their children and grandchildren. The best gift parents can give to their children is the gift of getting along so that they can see each other in public places or at events. The divorcing couple do not have to be best friends, or friends at all, but being able to compartmentalize what is best for their family is a skill that is highly valued.
The couple will make their own decisions based on what is important to them. They know themselves and their children better than anyone else. Collaborative divorce is one of the only processes that allows this to occur. The team works with the couple to help the process be a respectful one and one that encourages cooperation. The couple sees the team working together to help them and has role models to learn new skills and the motivation to change the future and make it a better place for them and their families.
Learning how to deal with their feelings is crucial in moving forward in a healthy way. Dwelling on the past and harboring extreme negative feelings and thoughts toward their ex can be very detrimental to their own health and future life. The coach guides, supports, and educates clients so that they will have new perspectives about what is happening and can also help them have more realistic expectations. The coach is involved only during the collaborative process and so the role is limited to assisting the couple when they are in the most distress. Couples experiencing a divorce are feeling deep and profound grief-the end of what they thought their future would be like. The coach can help couples realize that their feelings are normal and natural.
The Collaborative process encourages the couple to work together, with the ultimate goal of obtaining their divorce. The team has a larger end goal for the couple. One goal is to provide the couple with as much information as possible so that the best decisions can be made. Another equally important goal is to teach the couple communication skills so that they can, hopefully, have a more peaceful and cooperative co-existence.
Ellene Lammers, LCSW
977 Lakeview Pkwy. Ste. 102
Vernon Hills, IL 60061