Attorneys in Collaborative Divorce

Attorneys in the Collaborative Team Process function as legal advisors, conflict resolution specialists, legal drafters, and as legal representatives in completing the court process of separation or divorce.

Collaborative Attorneys spend nearly all their professional time in direct service to clients, doing only that work which the clients themselves direct.  For that reason, most report that they have happier clients and fewer problems with receivables.

Most attorneys in Collaborative Team Practice have their 40 hour mediation training.   They also receive 6 hours per year or more of additional training in non-defensive communication, interest based negotiation, team process, and interdisciplinary training.

Attorneys frequently participate in 5 or 6 way meetings with Financial Specialists, Child Specialists and Coaches.

Divorce Coach

A collaborative divorce coach is a licensed mental health professional experienced in issues related to separation, divorce and remarriage.  The coach has training in family systems, communication skills, collaborative law and interest-based negotiation.  This makes the coach uniquely suited to help one or both members of a divorcing couple deal with the emotional challenges of their divorce.

Powerful feelings of anger and grief felt by either spouse about the loss of the marriage can and often do impede clients from making good decisions about their future.  Often they are in different stages of acceptance that their marriage is over.  This can create friction between them and stall the negotiation process if not addressed.  There may be perceived power imbalances between the couple which keep either of them from speaking up about what is important to them.  All of these can undermine the couple’s ability to come to agreements that work for them in both the short and long-term.

As an integral member of the collaborative team, the coach serves primarily as the team’s communication specialist.  In meetings with the couple alone or in joint meetings with the couple and their attorneys, the coach observes how the couple is communicating in both words and body language and intervenes when there is breakdown.  He/she helps the couple learn what they do that triggers their partner negatively and why that is not in their self-interest long-term.  He/she may teach them how they can calm themselves when they become overwhelmed with emotion in order to be more present in the discussion.

In short, the divorce coach addresses any emotional obstacles that keep either member of the couple from making progress through this process.  A divorce coach does not function as a therapist in this role.  If either member of a couple needs therapy while going through the divorce, appropriate referrals are offered.

If the couple has children, the coach can help them learn how to become effective co-parents in spite of how they may feel about one another.  The coach has the couple identify shared goals for their children and keeps them accountable to those goals as they create a Parenting Plan.  The coach remains available to the couple after the divorce is final to help them negotiate co-parenting decisions as the needs of their children change.

In some cases, both members of a couple need extra support in this process.  In that case, they may each have their own coach who serves as an ally to them while still keeping the interests of the whole family in mind.  More often, a couple works with one coach who functions as a neutral.

Neutral Child Specialist

Keeping children at the center and out of the middle

The Child Specialist is a mental health professional with expertise in child development, child and adolescent psychology, family systems theory, and principles of collaborative law, mediation, and interest based resolution.  Child Specialists team with parents and professionals assisting them in dissolution and post-dissolution decision-making about parenting plans.  The Child Specialist offers a unique kind of support and advocacy for children as they are going through family transition. Child Specialists do not go to court and are not expert witnesses.

A voice for children during the family change process

The work of the Child Specialist is tailored to the individual needs of the family and the professionals with whom they are working.  The core guiding principles for this work include respect, neutrality, clear boundaries, transparency, time-limited interventions, recommendations based on direct knowledge of the children and their developmental, educational, social and psychological needs, direct support for children during a stressful time in their lives, and opportunity for children to have a voice without being asked to take sides.

Helping parents create developmentally responsive parenting plans 

During an initial meeting, information about the role and function of the neutral Child Specialist is shared, and a working relationship is established with both parents.   Developmental histories of each child in the family are obtained, and determination made whether information from outside sources (e.g. schools, child care providers) would assist in understanding the child.  Releases of information are signed to share information with the coach, attorneys, mediator and/or financial specialist on the team.

After working with their children, the Child Specialist has a feedback meeting with parents. Other professionals may be present at the meeting, based on what is in the best interests of the family.  Feedback is verbal; no written report is prepared.  The Child Specialist often continues to work with the parents after the feedback session to create the parenting plan.

The Child Specialist can also help parents address specific concerns about how to help their children adapt to family change before, during and after a divorce or break-up.  Typical issues include:

  • How to talk to children about the family change.
  • How to exchange co-parenting information in a way that minimizes stress on the children.
  • Concrete, effective ways to keep kids out of the middle.
  • Recommended books and other resources for kids and parents going through divorce.
  • Referrals for support, information and therapy for family members as needed.
  • How to maintain empathy, structure and support for children during the family change process.
  • How and when to introduce new partners to the children.

Sensitivity and empathy for the experience of each child guides this work. 

How meetings with children are conducted depends on the age and developmental needs of each child.  The Child Specialist may use play techniques to develop a relationship with and evaluate the developmental needs of a young child.  With older children and adolescents, the work is typically more language-based.  Kids are kept informed about the purpose of their meetings with the Child Specialist, and the fact that information will be shared with both parents to help them plan for the future.  Kids reserve the right to ask for confidentiality about issues they may want to talk about that are unrelated to the development of the parenting plan.  Children are given the opportunity to express their feelings about the family change and learn some coping strategies for getting through the tough times.  Kids are able to articulate what is important to them about how their family works, and what they wish for.  The number of sessions conducted with children varies with the age, temperament and complexity of issues, but the process is time-limited.  Typically two or three sessions are all that is required.

Neutral Financial Specialist

Education

CPA or CFP® designation, and also are often Certified Divorce Financial Analysts (CDFA™).

Knowledge

Possess a breadth of knowledge in financial planning matters pertaining to families, including asset valuation, tax, cash management and budgeting, investments, insurance, education funding and retirement.

Skills

Legal Skills – knowledge of fundamental legal concepts regarding financial issues in family law matters, including marital and non-marital property, equitable distribution, spousal maintenance (incorporating tax consequences) and child support.

Facilitative Skills – ability to listen actively, communicate effectively, have an open-mind, problem solve creatively, conduct meetings fairly and diligently, managing cases successfully and be a team player.

Substantive Skills – ability to assist couples in discussing money matters, educate people who have an insufficient knowledge or understanding of relevant financial concepts and ability to present financial information in a clear and meaningful format.

Training

Collaborative practice training and also often mediation training.

Role of the Financial Specialist

Assist the parties and attorneys in gathering, analyzing, understanding and evaluating financial information so that ultimately, the parties are able to make informed financial decisions for themselves and their children.  In a particular case, the financial role is defined by the clients with the advice of their attorneys and the Financial Specialist.  Tasks undertaken may include the following:

  • Assess financial understanding levels of each client
  • Educate and empower clients so they can make informed financial decisions
  • Manage financial expectations of clients
  • Gather and organize financial information
  • Value property, including businesses
  • Examine retirement and insurance issues
  • Identify and evaluate tax consequences
  • Trace and characterize property as marital or non-marital
  • Assist clients with developing budgets
  • Determine net income of clients
  • Develop current cash flow analyses
  • Develop future cash flow projections
  • Develop asset/liability report reflecting the clients’ current financial circumstances
  • Develop long range financial projections
  • Educate clients and attorneys on possible options for resolving support and property division issues

Family Specialists

The Family Specialist in Collaborative Team Practice is a licensed mental health professional who works with the family as a whole, as well as its constituent parts: i.e. the couple as partners in separation and dissolution of that partnership, and the couple as parents, if there are children, and with the children. As the family moves from one home to two, the Family Specialist works with that transition in meeting with each parent and the children, together, to bring an understanding of “family” and “home” that stays— albeit in a transitioned way—even as the marriage/partnership separates.

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