Collaborative Divorce Articles

The Role of the Divorce Coach in the Collaborative Divorce Model

by Jeffrey A. Steiger

The role of the divorce coach in the collaborative divorce model is to help the client to navigate through the difficult emotional terrain of the divorce process. The sensitive issues that come up around custody and concerns about their children, finances, and the future, that can so easily become adversarial, are turned over to a licensed mental health professional. Each party is assigned a coach and meets two to three times individually to gather information, history, and establish a relationship.

A coaching four-way meeting (two coaches and the divorcing couple) is set up to begin to address each spouses' concerns collectively. Ground rules are established about how the communication will take place, and each party will be able to state their concerns in a safe and supportive environment. Great care is taken to state the core concerns constructively and coaches support the clients to develop unique and individualized solutions.

The art of working collaboratively can be a challenge. Clinically, we often see people who are suffering from depression and anxiety disorders. The divorce can exaggerate or escalate these symptoms, that often include difficulty eating and sleeping. The ability to focus on the tasks of daily living is often impapired. In addition to the normal responsibilities, there is now also the business of divorce. There must be decisions made about child sharing schedules, putting together a budget, and managing life alone as single parents financially and emotionally. This can prove to be very overwhelming. Simple communication between the spouses can be a threatening and daunting experience. The couple is in crisis and often grieving the end of the marriage. They are fearful of all that is unknown ahead. One of the parties may have to return to work after many years of not working. Each person will process the stress differently. The responses during this time are often primal, and the individuals are highly reactive.

While we are not doctors and we do not prescribe medication, we are trained to recognize these symptoms and at times have suggested that an individual should consult a psychiatrist to discuss this option. These persons have reported to us that they area grateful for this guidance and appreciate the relief that they experience during such a difficult time.

The collaborative process can work wonders. The different disciplines offer creative solutions based on their unique skills and expertise. This allows us to be highly sensitive to their circumstances and to provide support to our clients and each other. The team of professionals communicates throughout this process, especially when we come up against a volatile issue. We strategize together and bring a level of awareness to the individuals we work with in this process, which can help them resolve an impasse because they feel taken care of emotionally. They are informed of their rights and offered options along the way.

Collaborative divorce is, at its best, a creative dance where solutions are arrived at through compromise and being mindful of the individuals involved. The work is truly satisfying when we can help a family transition into a new life with solutions that are fair and reasonable responses to their needs. Divorce coaches are an effective, efficient, and economical alternative to expensive legal fees. The mutual support enhances the work, and everyone benefits.

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