Collaborative Divorce – Team Model Creates Better Outcomes for Families

If you or anyone you know wants to end a marriage with minimal emotional damage to the family, I suggest serious consideration of collaborative divorce. A simple explanation of collaborative divorce is: “A highly structured process in which to express and resolve conflict without going to court”.

There are a number of sources of more thorough explanations of collaborative divorce and a list of local attorneys, mental health professionals and financial professionals. My intention is to give information about what Texas collaborative professionals call “The Texas Model” of collaborative divorce. Texas collaborative professionals are dedicated and available to assist divorcing couples to successfully restructure their lives, so as to minimize the potential negative effects of divorce.

We are seeing more positive outcomes for families with the “Texas Model”. This model uses a team approach allowing divorcing couples to negotiate acceptable agreements based on information that is freely exchanged between them without going to court, while still having the benefit of their own attorney (legal advocate).

One beneficial provisions of “The Texas Model” is the use of a neutral mental health professional, who steps out of the therapist role and takes on the role of a neutral facilitator. Another advantage of this model is the use of a neutral financial professional, who helps the couple understand their financial assets and liabilities, as well as any tax advantages or disadvantages that may result from their settlement options.

Attorneys, neutral mental health professionals, and neutral financial professionals are specially trained in the collaborative team approach and strive to use their specific knowledge and training to help the divorcing couple to reach the best result considering their unique situation.

Divorcing couples and their children are affected in three main ways: emotionally, financially, and legally. To relieve these pressures an attorney, who advocates for each spouse, teams up with the neutral professionals. The family benefits not only from the skills and knowledge of each team member, but also from the synergy of the team. In addition, because financial and mental health professionals are neutral, the mind-set goes from “his side” versus “her side” to “us versus the problem”. The acronym for TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) truly applies to this model. A more detailed description of each team member’s role helps us understand the benefit of the team approach.

Part of the role of the neutral facilitator, also called divorce coach or communication specialist is to help every one in the process communicate more effectively, help manage the understandable emotions that come up during the divorce, facilitate negotiations, and help with parenting plans when needed. The neutral facilitator, trained to assist in managing emotions helps the team move towards the goal of the best outcomes for the family.

This role is typically filled by a Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, or Licensed Master or Clinical Social Worker experienced with children and families. Many of us who fill this role are also trained as mediators. We bring our many years of training and all our skills into a whole new role aimed at minimizing the negative effects of divorce and helping the parties restructure their lives in the best way possible.

The use of a neutral financial professional is also beneficial. They help the couple understand their assets and debts and provide them with such information as tax advantages or disadvantages of various settlement options. They also assist the couple to gather and organize financial information, prepare needed financial documents, and assist in negotiation for financial outcomes that meet the needs of both the husband and wife. This role is often filled by a financial professional such as a CPA or certified divorce financial analyst. The neutral professionals are joined together with the traditional players, the attorneys, to make up the entire team.

Collaborative divorce attorneys are transformed from being “warriors” to being problems solvers. While each of the attorneys acts as an advocate of their respective client giving them legal information, they understand the importance of working toward achieving both parties’ goals. Each spouse usually meets individually with their own attorney between the structured “joint” meetings with the whole team, to discuss what they think is important at the time. The joint meetings are usually about two hours in length and are structured and agenda driven. The agenda is usually prepared and circulated to the team and the parties before each meeting and helps to keep everyone working in an efficient and productive manner. Another tool used in this process is the minutes for each meeting. The minutes includes such information as; what was discussed and “action items” (those actions to be done by each participant between meetings).

The “Texas Model” is used and promoted by a growing number of divorce attorneys. If you are planning on divorcing and want to consider a “Texas Model” of collaborative divorce, information about collaborative divorce and the team model can be found on the above mentioned web sites, and there are many articles and books written on the subject. After reading about collaborative divorce, I suggest interviewing one or more family law attorneys specifically trained in the interdisciplinary (team) model of collaborative divorce.