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Good Counsel: Getting Divorce Lawyers and Therapists on the Same Team

Good Counsel: For Mental Health Professionals

I am always glad to hear that my divorce client is working with a therapist*. Divorce is one of the most traumatic events that can occur in the life of any adult and having a good therapist in one’s corner is at least as important, (and maybe more important), than having legal counsel.

In many cases, a therapist and a divorce lawyer can, in my opinion, operate as an effective “team” to help a client through this difficult journey. Yet, in reality, the therapist and divorce attorney seldom communicate with each other during the divorce. Consequently, clients do not get the consistent help and assistance that they need and, on occasion, they even receive conflicting advice.

I am convinced that, in these cases, clients would be best served if they can be assured that their attorney and their therapist are working in harmony. In this series of blogs, I will examine ways that divorce attorneys and therapists can do a better job helping their clients by teaming up or, at minimum, getting on the “same page.”

It is important to distinguish the informal type of “teaming” that is being addressed here from the more formal types of teams that are rapidly emerging in divorce cases. For example, Collaborative Team Divorce cases typically involve mental health professionals who work alongside attorneys and financial professionals to help families in divorce. To learn more about that process, go to Collaborative Team Practice.

That type of formal teaming has proven to be remarkably effective in helping families find solutions that address all their legal, parenting, financial and communication needs. However, the type of teaming or cooperative strategies addressed here are intended to address a different dynamic that involves a completely different set of interactions. Even when couples have mental health professionals working as part of the divorce team, their role is distinctively different than the role of the therapist. The therapy being provided to the couple, or the children, during the divorce operate outside the process of the divorce “negotiation”, for very good reasons. However, while full interdisciplinary teaming with the therapist is neither practical or wise, some level of communication and alignment is clearly in the client best interests. Consequently, it makes sense to explore the ways that clients can have the benefit of true alignment among their trusted professionals.

In examining this important issue, we will separate the discussion into the following areas:

  • An examination of the similarities and differences in the role of the divorce attorney and the therapist during a divorce.
  • Issues addressed by attorneys and therapists prior to the divorce, including:
  • The decision about whether to divorce
  • The decision about choosing a divorce processes
  • Understanding and explaining primary process choices
  • Issues faced by attorneys and therapist teaming during the divorce, including:
  • Empowerment issues
  • Addiction issues
  • Contrasting coaching vs. therapy
  • Attorney and therapist opportunities for teaming after the divorce

For the most part, I will address these issues from the perspective of a divorce lawyer who, over the course of the past 33 years, has worked with thousands of clients and numerous of mental health professionals who work with divorcing clients. However, I invite dialogue and input from other therapists and divorce lawyers with the hope that we can add to our collective understanding and provide fresh ideas on how to help individuals facing divorce prepare for the next phase of their journey.

I hope you will join us.

Next week: Examining the Similarities Between Legal Counsel and Therapy.

* In this blog series, I will use therapist and therapy when referring to all mental health professionals who are assisting clients in regards to psychological services.

About Good Counsel: A Blog Series for Therapists and Mental Health Professionals

I truly believe that we are embarking on a new era of enlightenment in the area of family law in which we will increasingly see divorce and separation as more of a health issue and a social transition, rather than as a Win/Lose legal battle. As that enlightenment continues, the role of divorce attorneys (in the traditional sense of “advocacy”) will gradually become less prominent and the various roles of mental health professionals will increase. During that transition, I am hoping that there will be new ways for divorce attorneys and mental health professionals to work together to help families in transition move on to a better future.

In the spirit of that new adventure, I have written a series of ten blogs, under the title “Good Counsel” to discuss the ways that family law attorneys and mental health professionals can work together. I hope that you will find this series of blogs to be a helpful beginning of this important conversation and that you will participate in that conversation, and in this great revolution, in the months and years ahead. 

mental health professionals, therapists
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