In the past, you have heard me mention the benefits of having a divorce coach (also referred to as a facilitator) as part of your collaborative divorce team. People react differently to this recommendation. In my experience, however, the best outcomes in collaborative divorce happen with the benefit of a divorce coach. So, this blog will give you an outline of what a divorce coach will want to learn from each spouse and why this greatly aids the negotiation and lays the foundation of the relationship going forward.
Prior to negotiations, the divorce coach will meet with each spouse individually to both get to know each person and determine several things. Those include:
What do you want to get out of the divorce proceedings? This is not a tangible question (e.g. 50 percent of all assets and sole ownership of the family home). It’s more theoretical. Some of the more common goals people have are being financially secure after the divorce; moving on emotionally; being able to be civil with the ex while attending children’s activities and life events; and communicating effectively with the ex so the children are not impacted. Often, both spouses have overlapping goals, which creates a positive platform to launch the negotiations.
It’s the nature of most marriages, good and bad. Even if you get along with your spouse, there are certain things that he or she does that just set you off and vice versa. To facilitate the negotiation, the divorce coach needs to know what those are. This serves many purposes. First, if the coach sees these triggers, he/she can alert the attorneys that a break might be in order. More importantly, the divorce coach can work with each spouse on how to react (or not react) to those triggers. This will be important during the negotiation and afterwards if you have to see and speak to each other regularly about parenting issues.
What led you here?
How did you and your spouse get to this point where you are seeking a divorce? Knowing each spouse’s version of their mutual history will be informative to the divorce coach during the course of the negotiation. It also will provide insight into the potential challenges down the road. An example of that could be the marriage is ending due to an affair/relationship. That would certainly impact the current communication dynamic and is bound to come into play in some predictable and sometimes some surprising ways in a negotiation. To the extent there are underlying anger issues, the coach will work to identify and defuse them as needed.
Where you are now?
One person could be fighting the divorce or not be very accepting. The other could have, emotionally and otherwise, moved on. Determining each person’s status can provide useful insights for the divorce coach in preventing any meltdowns or arguments. The coach might instruct the team to make accommodations for the spouse who is experiencing difficulties, such as scheduling more time between meetings or additional one on one time for the coach and spouse.
Parents, siblings and friends mean well. That said, I’ve seen many cases where the influence of relatives /friends has negatively impacted the outcome of a negotiation. As an example, a spouse might agree to something in negotiation and then change his or her mind after the meeting because of the reaction of someone who is not part of the negation. If the coach is aware of the reason for the unexpected reversal he/she will work with the attorneys to develop a strategy for anticipating and hopefully avoiding the same pattern going forward.
A divorce coach is typically a seasoned counselor (such as a personal or life coach) or a mental health care professional with specialized training. He/she can help people focus on the negotiation, to not get distracted by the well-intentioned advice of others and keep the focus on the goals set at the beginning of the process.
Generally, the divorce coach offers insights about to divorcing parties that attorneys can’t. These insights improve the outcome of the collaborative divorce in two primary ways. First, they are invaluable in the actual negotiations, by making sure that the negotiations happen smoothly, making sure that everyone has the opportunity to have their say and responding or restructuring if the parties are not comfortable with the way that the process is unfolding.
The other significant benefit to having a coach is his or her attention to the emotional needs of the parties. Divorce is always an emotional event and a process that values and embraces the emotional currents (or undercurrents) rather than a process that tries to sweep those pesky emotions under the rug. leaving everyone feeling better heard and served.
Using a football analogy, as attorneys, we pay more attention to the X’s and O’s. In legal terms, that’s the division of assets, alimony, child support, parenting schedules, etc. The divorce coach is more like the trainer. He/she can see an injured player on the field, while other parties might be paying more attention to running the next play. And that’s why, in many cases, the divorce coach is the most valuable player in the room.