Couples participating in the Collaborative Divorce process have the opportunity to use a “divorce coach” as part of the team. Clients sometimes ask how a divorce coach beneficial or relevant in a divorce case. Simply put, because Oregon is a “no fault” state, a divorce court does not address the emotional component of a divorce. There may be infidelity, substance abuse, angry or abusive communication styles, or any other number of non-legal issues lurking in the background of a divorce. In court, the conduct,social environment, or lifestyle of either party is irrelevant unless a party can prove that any of those factors are causing or may cause actual emotional or physical damage to the child.
In contrast, in the Collaborative Divorce process, the professional team recognizes that these emotional and personal issues are often a barrier to successful resolution in a case. In Oregon, divorce coaches are mental health professionals – often a Psychologist or Licensed Clinical Social Worker – which provides a strong background for dealing with difficult family situations. When using a divorce coach in a Collaborative Divorce, a divorce coach may work with one spouse at a time, or both spouses together, or each spouse may have his/her own coach. These professionals can provide tools to help facilitate communication between spouses and help resolve outstanding personal issues that are blocking successful co-parenting. In some cases, coaches may facilitate conversations about a parenting plan or provide suggestions about how to talk to children about the divorce.
Divorce coaches do not provide therapy and do not take the place of a person’s individual therapist. Instead, their role is to help couples get through the emotional roadblocks throughout the negotiation period. They employ both their therapeutic training as well as mediation training and conflict resolution skills to help couples reach agreements. One unique role of a divorce coach in a collaborative Divorce is to help a spouse clearly articulate his/her experience or needs and to hear and acknowledge the other spouse’s input as well. This way, instead of parties hurling accusations at one another, each spouse has an opportunity to find a constructive way to share his/her thoughts, while also finding the space to really hear his/her spouse. This also allows parents to begin to restructure their relationship – while the marriage may be over, their relationship is not. Divorce coaches can help parents develop new ways of being supportive co-parents, even within the changing structure of their family.
In some cases, the Collaborative Divorce attorneys will ask the divorce coach to attend all team meetings, to help ease tensions or assist in productive communication. In other cases, the work with the divorce coach is done outside of the full team meeting. But in each case, the divorce coach’s work as part of the Collaborative Divorce team is extremely important and brings substantial value to the divorcing couple.