The Collaborative Practice Team and Divorce
This section focuses on the application of a Collaborative Disciplinary Team to divorcing and/or separating couples.
Collaborative Process and Team Building
The Collaborative Process encourages clients to build their own Collaborative Practice Team, which in addition to their attorneys can include, as needed:
- Financial professionals to assist in the information gathering and the development and analysis of settlement ideas,
- Other professionals as needed, such as vocational consultants and appraisers,
- Coaches to help clients with their parenting plan, their children’s issues, and their emotional issues so that they can better participate in the process, and
- Child specialists to represent the clients’ children’s best interests.
How you build your team is up to you, depending on your needs and concerns. Your team can be as simple as the two of you and your respective attorneys. From there you can add the professionals you need; the members of Collaborative Practice San Francisco believe that the full team model is the most supportive, creative and effective way of working to build agreements, but the full team might not be possible or necessary in all cases.
Each client will have their own attorney as the foundation of their team, particularly in a divorce situation, as divorce is a legal process and final agreements reached have lasting legal implications. Attorneys in the Collaborative Process are specially trained to advocate collaboratively, which means representing the individual client while maintaining the goals of the Collaborative Process. The Collaborative Attorney educates and counsels the client about legal issues and guides the client in gathering and understanding information. Additionally, the Collaborative Attorney helps the client articulate their interests, goals, and concerns.
Solutions to the issues presented are reached in meetings with the clients and their professional team, rather than in negotiations between the attorneys without the parties being present. Attorneys help clients brainstorm all possible options on each issue, evaluate and prioritize those options, and reach agreements that meet their needs and interests.
Settlements achieved through the process are legal and binding, and the Collaboratively-trained attorneys prepare the requisite documents and settlement agreements to make your agreements enforceable and your divorce final.
The Collaborative Financial Neutral
Divorcing couples are often unaware of each of the financial implications of their various settlement options. The neutral financial professional is a licensed Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who also has been certified as a Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA). The financial professional helps the couple evaluate their financial situation, identifies tax consequences of different property division options, and helps them develop creative solutions to complex financial problems. As a neutral, the financial professional has greater credibility in providing information and fostering a dialogue to consider multiple options than an advocate advising only one party. This makes it easier to reach mutually satisfying agreements.
Key Areas to Consider:
- Supporting two houses on income that previously supported one
- Sustainable budgeting
- Workable property division
- Tax issues, planning, liabilities, and funding
- Spousal and child support
- Real estate and/or business values and issues
The Neutral Financial Professional:
- Gathers all relevant financial documents and information about family finances
- Helps clients to identify, clarify and prioritize their financial needs, goals and concerns
- Prepares detailed financial reports for all members of the Collaborative team which also serve as the clients’ declarations of disclosure
- Educates one or both clients about their financial situation
- Assists with developing a client’s budget
- Facilitates discussion of settlement options including tax consequences
- Prepares projections showing the financial future of both parties based on the different settlement options
- Reviews the proposed Marital Settlement Agreement for accuracy as it relates to team financial discussions
- Evaluate possible settlement options with respect to short and long term consequences
- Communicates with the team and clients on financial matters Brings the voice of financial reality to the discussions
The financial professional recognizes that financial topics often involve very strong emotions. Preserving neutrality is key to supporting both clients and validating emotions when they arise.
Collaborative Mental Health Professionals
Collaborative Mental Health Professionals can serve as coaches for one or both parties and as neutral child specialists.
A Collaborative Coach is a licensed mental health professional who has experience in issues related to separation, divorce, and remarriage, as well as communication and parenting skills. This background together with extensive training in Collaborative Practice enables the coach to help one or both members of a divorcing couple deal with the emotional and psychological challenges of their divorce. Although the Coach uses therapeutic skills, the Coach does not function as a therapist in this role.
The Collaborative Process is based on the belief that families can get through divorce in a more emotionally healthy way when you are able to interact and communicate with each other in a respectful, honest, and open manner. Coaches are trained to teach you and your spouse helpful communication and self-management skills which are necessary in your settlement discussions, and if children, in your post-divorce co-parenting. Strategies for communication around decision making and problem solving are critical to ensuring that your needs and interests are clearly expressed.
- Coaches help by identifying the underlying needs and wants, by facilitating the negotiations; by teaching co-parenting skills; by teaching and modeling communication skills and problem-solving skills; by helping you develop a roadmap for future relationships within the new family structure; and by being a resource into the future as issues arise. They also help develop co-parenting plans.
- Coaches help Attorneys and Financial Professionals by providing an overview of the emotional issues which are affecting the clients’ behavior or position, by consulting when there is an impasse in the case, by depathologizing the divorce process, by providing a safe place for clients to deal with emotions and volatility during the legal process, by focusing on the interest and needs of the family as a whole, and by being the voice of the children or parent when necessary.
- Coaches may meet in 3-way or 4-way meetings with you or you and your spouse, or full meetings with you, your spouse, and other professionals as necessary.
- It also enables the coach to help parents develop an appropriate Parenting Plan for their children, regardless of whether or not they are in a divorce situation.
Collaborative Child Specialist
The Child Specialist, if there are children, is a neutral participant in the Collaborative Process who provides insight into the experience of the children in coping with the divorce. The Child Specialist will work with the children and the parents to provide the children with an opportunity to voice their concerns regarding the divorce and to provide the parents with information and guidance to help their children through this process. The Child Specialist also gives information to the parents and the Collaborative team that will help in developing an effective co-parenting plan for their children.
The Child Specialist can help the parents develop options for schedules and logistics which are in the child’s best interest. The Child Specialist is not a custody evaluator; The child specialist provides information about child development and divorce, and may bring the voice of the child into the room.
The Child Specialist gathers information in a variety of ways tailored to each family’s circumstances and needs. You choose what information is to be provided and how it is gathered. This could include:
- Meeting with the parents together and /or separately
- Meeting with the children, sometimes alone and sometimes with either or both parents present
- Interviewing parents and or other important adults in the children’s lives, such as teachers, therapists and other family members
- Conducting home visits, when appropriate, particularly when younger children are involved
The Child Specialist has experience in helping parents create stability and continuity for their children and assists parents in developing an appropriate parenting plan that will reduce the children’s exposure to conflict and improve parents’ communication.
The Child Specialist provides feedback to help focus the parents on the children’s developmental and psychological needs, putting into perspective concerns parents have about their children currently or long term. Bringing the specific information about the children’s lives (their age, temperament, special attributes) helps the parents shift from “my time/right” with the child to the “child’s time” with the parent. This useful distinction prioritizes the child’s needs. Typically, the Child Specialist does not provide ongoing therapy, but is available for consultation related to the children and the divorce.
Tell Me More
To learn more about Collaborative Practice visit the San Francisco Collaborative Practice Group. The Members of the San Francisco Collaborative Practice Group are trained in both Mediation and Collaborative Practice and can assist you in whichever process you choose.