The Role of the Collaborative Divorce Coach

January 7, 2014

There are typically three types of professionals (or “consultants”) who work with parties who choose to divorce using the collaborative divorce process: attorneys, financial neutrals, and mental health professionals (typically referred to as “coaches.”)  The Collaborative Divorce Coach is a licensed mental health professional who is trained in collaborative divorce.  He or she serves three basic functions on the collaborative divorce team.

First, they are the “keeper of the process” generally, which means a number of things, including taking the lead on scheduling the various meetings that comprise the process, tracking agenda items and then preparing a written agenda to structure the meeting, and keeping track of time so that everyone uses the time efficiently, discussing the items on the agenda and not veering into topics for which the team is not prepared to discuss.  They also help maintain the collaborative frame generally during the discussions and negotiations, working with the attorneys and parties (and sometimes the financial neutral) to insure that the discussions are respectful.  In this vein, they also help articulate and maintain the concept of “The Third Narrative,” which is the idea that the objective truth about a family’s reality is oftentimes a combination of the parties’ two (often divergent) perspectives, as opposed to the idea that one of the parties is “right” and the other is “wrong.”

In addition to serving as the “keeper of the process,” the Coach is also the team member most involved in supporting the parties through the “emotional divorce” that happens in every case, but that is often ignored or exploited in negative ways in adversarial litigation.  More specifically, the Coach meets at the beginning of the case with each of the parties individually to hear their stories about the marriage and each party’s perspective on why the divorce is happening.  The Coach assesses when each of the parties is most likely to become emotionally triggered in the negotiations and how best to prevent reactivity when possible and how best to manage it when it happens.  The Coach then reports back to the other consultants involved in the case so that the negotiations are planned and conducted taking into account the various emotional and psychological dynamics the parties bring to the case.

Finally, given his or her expertise as a mental health professional, the Coach serves as a resource for child development issues if the parties have children together.  He or she works with the parties on issues such as how best to tell the children about the divorce, how to transition the family into two separate households in a way that minimizes negative impact on everyone (especially the children), and how best to structure Parenting Plans that take into account the developmental needs of children at various ages.  For example, a toddler likely needs a very different sort of residential schedule than a teenager.

The Collaborative Divorce Coach is a critical component in the collaborative divorce process to ensure the process remains collaborative in nature, that both parties’ unique personalities and emotional needs are considered, and that the settlement is structured in a  way that supports the parties’ children through the difficulties associated with divorce.

To learn more about collaborative divorce in Middle Tennessee, click here.

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