When parents consider a separation or divorce usually one of the most important concerns for either parent will be how the divorce will affect the children. It is common for parents to be worried about the emotional reaction of the children in the face of the change to their family structure. They will also be thinking about how the children will adjust to possible new living arrangements and a different schedule for the weekdays, weekends, holidays and vacation periods. Parents also fear how financial stressors will impact the family and the ability to provide economically for the children.
For families with children, one of the most important advantages of the Collaborative Divorce Model is how it puts the needs of the children first and foremost. The stress of conflict and uncertainty, whether it relates to emotional or financial issues, can present major risk factors for children and for their development which the Collaborate Divorce Model is uniquely qualified to address. The Collaborative Divorce Model offers the following advantages to help facilitate a co-parenting framework for the benefit of the children:
Communication-The Collaborative professionals who work as part of the Collaborative team include an attorney for each of the parents and usually also a Family Support Specialist and a Financial Specialist. All members of the team are specifically trained to encourage cooperative problem solving and respectful dialogue.
In particular, the Family Support Specialist, as a mental health professional trained in child development, family systems and conflict resolution, is especially suited to assist in facilitating discussions and identifying triggers for each parent so that the focus can be on the needs of the children. The problem solving between the parents and the team that occurs during the Collaborative process sets a good and important foundation for being able to talk effectively and problem solve in the years ahead with the many co-parenting issues that will arise related to the children. A foundation will be set for really being able to listen to and understand the point of view of the other parent. This will set the tone for the many other decisions that need to be made as the children continue to grow and develop.
The Financial Specialist can also work with the parents on budgeting and other financial planning issues and an understanding of the assets and debts. This will enable both parents to anticipate what the expected costs for themselves and the children will be and to help them communicate about financial decisions as parents for the benefit of the children. Again, the focus will be on communication that will foster mutual decision making and look at the best financial interests of the children.
Non-Adversarial- Rather than focusing on a “win-lose” approach, the Collaborative Model is focused on the collaborative concept of creating a mutually beneficial settlement in as calm and peaceful a manner as possible. Instead of an adversarial process where each parent may be focused on the flaws of the other parent, or in some cases how to harm the other parent when there is anger or hurt involved, the Collaborative Model and the Collaborative team will encourage parents to think about what each parent can provide for the children. This type of thinking and approach can much better facilitate the parents working through time sharing and parenting plans for weekdays, weekends and holiday or vacation time. For example, parents will be encouraged to talk about what parenting plans will take into account the needs of the children while accommodating the work schedule of each parent. The focus will be on how to make sure the children are emotionally safe and not subjected to increased tension and conflict. The Collaborative Model which is non-adversarial helps contain conflict and not inflame it.
Privacy and Greater Control Over Decision Making- The Collaborative Model allows parents to make decisions about their children privately instead of being made by a Judge in a courtroom. The Collaborative Model has a participation agreement in which the parents agree to resolve issues without litigation and without going to court. This agreement helps parents feel safe to engage in meaningful conversations, supported by their respective attorneys and the rest of the Collaborative team in the privacy of an office or on a confidential Zoom meeting which has become more popular since Covid-19. From the very outset, by choosing this model parents are electing to make the important decisions regarding their children themselves, as the individuals who know their children best. The crucial decisions about the children will not be made by a Judge in open court, where very often the parents do not feel they are given sufficient time to be heard or understood. In the Collaborative Model each parent will be given ample time to discuss their fears, worries, objectives and goals for the children in a very supportive environment.
Costs- The advantage of the Collaborative Model is that it is more efficient in many ways than the litigation approach and therefore usually less costly. The time in a courthouse, which can be very expensive and inefficient, is eliminated. In addition, the use of neutrals such as the Family Support Special and Financial Specialist can alleviate some of the work of the attorneys in that the other specialists can perform certain tasks, for example, a parenting plan or budget, at a lower cost and with great expertise. This is an important benefit to maintain more income and assets for the family’s needs and especially for the children.
Allows for Use of a Child Specialist as Part of the Collaborative Team- For some families a Child Specialist can be brought in as part of the team to speak directly with the children. The Child Specialist can serve various functions, including acting as a neutral to educate the children about the divorce process and help them with adjustment issues. The Child Specialist can also bring the voices of the children to the team and into the process so that everyone can work together to address particular concerns of the children. By identifying issues with the help of a neutral Child Specialist the parents can hear together what factors are impacting the children and can be helped to co-parent more effectively in coordination with one another instead of at odds.
Special Needs Children- Children with special needs often present unique challenges. These challenges may be related to care for the children for years beyond when most children are considered emancipated under the law. The Collaborative Model can help parents communicate about the specific needs of these children anticipating well into the future. Financial Specialists as part of the Collaborative team are well suited to help discuss sources of funding, entitlement programs and anticipated costs for a child with special needs.
In conclusion, one of the most important goals of the Collaborative Divorce Model is to help parents co-parent in the best interests of their children. Numerous studies show that the way in which parents who separate or divorce behave toward one another and interact with respect to the children who they love will have an enormous impact on how the children cope with this significant change in their lives. Parents who have been helped to do so through the Collaborative Divorce Model with the support of the members of the Collaborative Team, whether their respective attorneys, Family Support Specialist or Financial Neutral, are in a much better position to communicate effectively with each other and to weather both routine and more unexpected situations involving their children that arise in their daily lives now and in the many years to come.
Written by Amy Reinstein-Augenstein, Esq., LCSW