Collaborative Divorce for Same-Sex Couples

July 15, 2015

With the advent of same-sex marriage across Tennessee and the rest of the United States, same-sex divorce will be an inevitable reality in the very near future.  In fact, some Tennessee couples married in other states and have wanted to divorce for years in Tennessee, but have been unable to do so until now.  Collaborative divorce is an important option for gay and lesbian divorcing couples to consider.

Previous posts have talked at length about how collaborative divorce tends to the always-present emotional divorce in ways that divorce litigation (or even traditional divorce negotiation) does not do.  The same emotional dynamics that apply to heterosexual divorcing couples also apply to same-sex couples, but there are also often other additional issues at play for gay couples that make the emotional divorce even more complicated.  First, very few gay couples had any sort of role models for how to be in a same-sex marriage or how to raise a family as a gay couple, simply because there are relatively few gay people in the world compared to straight people and the vast majority of gay people were raised by straight parents.  Because of the logistical and financial barriers to having children, most gay or lesbian couples in long-term committed relationships have historically chosen not to have children together.  In sum, same-sex couples who are faced with divorce are typically left without a compass around how to set up or dissolve families, which can add to their anxiety in an already extraordinarily stressful time.

Second, until very recently many gay people spent their adolescences and even adult years hiding their sexual orientation out of fear of being judged and rejected by their friends, families, or religious communities because they are gay or lesbian.  Living for years in shame in the closet brings a unique and insidious set of psychological issues for people who have been through that experience.  When those same people reach the painful decision to divorce, a lot of the issues from their younger years show back up in the divorce.

Trained and experienced collaborative divorce professionals, especially Collaborative Divorce Coaches (who are licensed mental health professionals) can assess the various emotional and psychological dynamics at play for the couple and work with them individually and together so that their anxiety does not derail the divorce process.  Keeping the couple supported emotionally is often an indispensable ingredient in keeping them grounded enough to be able to make good settlement decisions for themselves and for their children if they have them.  On the other hand, if those same emotional Achilles heals are not effectively managed, the couple may end up not being able to agree to settlement terms, forcing the couple to spend tens of thousands of dollars (or more) on legal fees in a contested, litigated trial where the judge makes all of the decisions for them regarding a Parenting Plan and property/debt division in ways that neither of them likes.

It cannot be said too often that divorce is a painful and stressful process that ends up having emotional, financial, and legal consequences for families that face it.  But collaborative divorce is a process that tries to restore a measure of hope in the midst of what can feel hopeless.

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