71926831-woman-at-desk-looking-at-photograph-gettyimagesOn lists of life stressors, divorce is usually ranked among the top two or three most emotionally challenging events. The process itself is experienced as highly stressful by many people, and from what we know about recovery from profound loss, it takes at least a year to begin to regain equilibrium. In other words, the stress caused by a divorce does not usually just go away when the decree is signed. Especially in situations in which there has been a high level of tension and acrimony during the divorce process, it can be very difficult to shift from conflict mode to co-parenting mode if there are children in the family.

New sources of stress can arise post-decree, e.g. introducing children to new significant others, a parent’s decision to move, loss of a job, children struggling to adapt to the new normal. It is normal for these kinds of change to create uncertainty and distress.

When contemplating a divorce, many people turn to divorce professionals for ideas, advocacy and support. This can lessen feelings of isolation and uncertainty during a time of crisis. However, after the decree has been submitted to the court, people may feel they are on their own to pick themselves up and commence with the rest of their lives.

It has been my experience that specific post-decree support provided by neutral coaches and neutral child specialists can be an invaluable resource for families defining their new normal after a divorce. In the context of voluntary post decree alternative dispute resolution,  resources can be shared, support given, and skills developed for effective co-parenting. Parenting and relationship plans can be created (if not completed during the divorce itself) or revised by joint agreement. In the context of voluntary alternative dispute resolution, children can be safely included in this process, e.g. to check in about their adjustment to new schedules and routines. It has been suggested that follow up care like this should be offered to all divorcing couples, though not all may need it.

This is not a replacement for psychotherapy. Individual  therapy can enhance personal growth, provide support and help adults and children heal emotionally. Couples therapy specific to the end of marriage can help resolve lingering emotional issues and conflict.  Family therapy may be valuable, especially if relationship repair between parents and children is needed. It is also not a replacement for support groups or resources like Daisy Camp. However, post-decree consultation with neutral experts who specialize in helping family members make the healthiest possible adjustment to a divorce can be a focused and powerful kind of support during a challenging time of transition.


179557103One of the most valuable outcomes of Collaborative Team Practice for many families is how respectfully the process helps prepare parents for effective co-parenting.  Lee Eddison, a very experienced neutral coach in Collaborative Team Practice, aptly describes this as a transition from We (a married couple) to a different kind of We (co-parents).

In Collaborative Team Practice, the expertise to make this transition is available from two mental health professionals on the team, the neutral child specialist and the neutral coach.  The neutral child specialist offers a child-inclusive process to assist parents in the creation of a developmentally responsive Parenting Plan.  The Parenting Plan lays an important foundation for effective-co-parenting with detailed agreements about decision making; communication; parenting expectations, routines and guidelines; and parenting time.  This foundation is considerably strengthened when parents also create a Relationship Plan with their neutral coach.

The Relationship Plan is a set of clear and specific agreements about how parents can communicate effectively and resolve potential or actual conflicts in a productive manner once they have completed their divorce or separation and are on their own.  The Relationship Plan is not a list of cookie cutter recommendations or generic advice, but is specifically tailored to the unique needs and concerns of each family.  

Included in the Relationship Plan are agreements about necessary boundaries to define safe emotional, physical and communication space for co-parenting.The neutral coach helps parents be specific about what words and behaviors from a co-parent would feel respectful and supportive, what could easily trigger negative emotions, and what to do if negative emotions are triggered.  The Relationship Plan helps parents anticipate and prepare for a number of sensitive and potentially complicated interpersonal situations that frequently arise after a divorce or break up.Creating a Relationship Plan also provides an opportunity for parents to articulate and build on their own and their co-parent’s strengths.

In my experience as a neutral child specialist,  parents who invest the time and resources to create a Relationship Plan with their neutral coach have prepared themselves as fully as possible for their lifelong relationship as co-parents.  On behalf of their children, what could possibly be more valuable than that?
  When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin recently announced their breakup as “consciousuncoupling”, they created quite a buzz. Comments both positive and negative streamed forth into the media. While many applauded the honesty and civility of the couple’s joint post, others were more critical, wondering, for example, whether conscious uncoupling is simply “breaking up for vegans.” As a family law attorney focused on helping families in transition, I was impressed by the couple’s joint statement. Acknowledging that they “are and always will be a family” and that they “are parents first and foremost” reveals an elevated level of consciousness. By making the public aware of a kinder, more generous approach to divorce, my hope is that this celebrity couple is raising the awareness of others considering divorce. While I understand that conscious uncoupling can refer to a variety of processes, the core principles include acceptance of mutual responsibility for the past and discussion of shared goals for the future. Divorce presents an opportunity for each partner to gain insight into his or her own patterns of behavior and how those patterns impacted the relationship. The Collaborative divorce process encourages conscious uncoupling. A neutral coach can help couples honor their feelings of grief and anger and develop a relationship plan for the future. Creating an honorable ending to one relationship improves the outlook for future relationships. If the family has children, they, too, will benefit from their parents’ healing and improved communication.
Watching the Winter Olympics, a commercial captured my attention.  The ad included footage of Olympic athletes who fell while competing, thus failing to reach a goal for which they had trained intensely and prepared for years.   Although elite athletes know there is no assurance of winning, their hearts can still break when their hopes and dreams are shattered after a fall before reaching the finish line. As you see in the commercial, the story didn’t end with failure.  Each of the fallen athletes was shown years later, returning to give a winning performance.  The theme of the ad was “there is always a second chance.”  Though not every heartbreaking fall comes with a replay button, we know that life is a constant process of loss and renewal.

Those of us in the Collaborative divorce community are deeply attuned to the emotional event of a divorce.  It is usually heartbreaking for all family members—the divorcing couple, their children and their extended families.  It can certainly feel like a painful fall before the finish line of a marriage is reached.   Hopes and dreams can feel shattered.  We never want the story to end there.

Collaborative Team Practice  is designed to help guide families making their transition through a painful time of loss with safety, respect, dignity and hope for the future.  The Collaborative Team is comprised of professionals from many areas of practice:

Collaborative attorneys are skilled at listening deeply, helping clients set goals and engage in problem solving meetings that are non-adversarial in nature. Neutral Coaches work with clients to bring their best selves to problem solving meetings, and create a relationship plan with them if their future includes co-parenting their children. Neutral Financial Professionals generate creative options to help both clients come through their divorce on the best possible financial footing. Neutral Child Specialists meet with all family members, are supportive advocates for children in the family, and help parents create developmentally attuned parenting plans.

Like a skilled sports team, each member of a Collaborative Team understands his or her unique role in the interplay of helping clients reach their goals while feeling understood and supported in the process of getting unmarried.  We believe in the process and promise of renewal after loss.