1) The first thing you need to do is pick a team.
We believe that there should be a minimum of six professionals on every team, and they are the ones utilized in the collaborative divorce process. Those six are:
- a divorce coach for each parent,
- a collaborative family law lawyer for each parent,
- a child specialist, and
- a financial specialist.
It doesn't matter which professional you start with, but our recommendation is that you start with a coach. At the beginning of the divorce process, the emotional component, as shown in the diagram below, is usually the largest.
Typically, with separations that are destined to be permanent, the emotional component for one person may be considerably larger than the emotional component for the other.
The financial component is generally significant at the beginning because there will be a need to establish an additional household of some sort on the existing resources and income.
When families rupture due to domestic violence or allegations of domestic violence, things like ex parte orders can result in the legal component being dominant. This also increases the emotional component and creates additional financial stresses.
Note that as the separation proceeds or as an opportunity for reconciliation develops, additional professionals may be added to the team.
2) Identify the priorities and start dealing with them.
In domestic violence situations, the priority is the safety of all family members. Your lawyer is a key person in this situation and the selection of a divorce coach with considerable expertise and familiarity with domestic violence resources and processes is also very important.
A priority in almost all situations is the issue of what and how to tell the children. For this, the child specialist comes to the fore. He or she can provide information to the parents, make suggestions based on the family's circumstances, and even provide direct services to the children.
A related priority is creating an initial parenting arrangement. For this, there two divorce coaches and the child specialist will work collaboratively. If necessary, the lawyers can draft a Consent Order and file it with the courts.
Unfortunately, at the beginning of the separation process there are a lot of pressing demands and unless the parents are going to continue residing in the same residence for a period of time, the financial challenge of establishing a second household is another priority. For this, the financial specialist will work with the family to accurately assess their situation, and will help them identify and evaluate their options.
3) Reassess and add to the team if necessary.
If things go well, the situation will be stabilized and the family will progress through the transition process with varying amounts of assistance from the professional team.
If things go very well, and reconciliation emerges as a possibility, individual and/or family therapists may be added to the team. The new professional(s) would be briefed by part of the existing team, giving the new professional(s) jump start on their task.
If things do not go well certain professionals may need to be added to the team.
- Perhaps someone is severely distraught about the separation. Individual therapy would be added to compliment the work of the divorce coach.
- Often, the parents can accomplish a tremendous amount of the required restructuring with the assistance of a mediator. The individual coaches and lawyers can prepare each parent for that process, and the lawyers can draft and file Consent Orders based on the agreements established through mediation.
- If there are a limited number of issues that cannot be resolved, an arbitrator may be added to the team to overcome these impasses.
- If negotiations are not going well, and one or both of the parents are choosing not to contribute to a resolution of the issues, then a co-parenting coordinator can be added to the team. With the ability to overcome impasses by making a binding decision, progress on issues can be made in a controlled manner, on a well informed basis. All of the interim decisions could be reviewed by the courts if necessary.
- In very high conflict situations, in addition to a co-parenting coordinator, the family may require the assistance of child welfare, specialized treatment, and even a case management judge.
4) Monitoring and future availability.
Unless on parent chooses to abandon his or her children, separation for parents is a process that never has an end.
Sometimes, things can go well for a family for extended periods of time, and then challenges and perhaps even turmoil emerge. Whenever possible, all the members of the family's team remain available to them. Coaches will generally touch base periodically with the parents they worked with to ensure that things are going well.