Understanding Divorce Coaching

What is a Divorce Coach?

A Collaborative Divorce Coach is a licensed mental health professional who has experience in issues related to separation, divorce and remarriage. The coach has training and expertise in family dynamics, communication skills, mediation, and the collaborative law process. This background enables the coach to help one or both members of a divorcing couple deal with the emotional and psychological challenges of their divorce. Although the coach uses therapeutic skills, the coach does not function as a therapist in this role.

Why Use a Coach?

Divorce is an emotional, social, spiritual, and financial journey that includes a legal event as one step along the way. Just as marriage is much more than a “piece of paper,” the process of divorce is far more than simply “signing the final agreement.” 

Strong feelings can get in the way:
For most people, getting divorced involves loss on many levels. These can include loss of control, loss of a dream, loss of trust, loss of stability, loss of a best friend, loss of financial security, loss of connection to shared friends and community, and loss of identity as a married person, among others.

Powerful feelings of anger and grief as well as anxious thoughts about the future are normal. Communication can be difficult. Many people feel ruled by their emotions and that can keep them from making sound decisions.

What can a Coach Do for Me?

A coach can help you…

  • learn how to reduce your grief, anger, anxiety and stress as you make decisions about your future.
  • understand the other partners outlook on an issue even if you don’t agree with it.
  • clarify what is important to you , your values and intentions.
  • clarify and articulate to your spouse and attorney the personal goals and values you want reflected in the divorce settlement.
  • stay accountable to the goals you have set for your future and that of your children.
  • create a foundation for co-parenting that enables you to act in the best interests of your children.
  • negotiate terms of your co-parenting plan both during the divorce and in later years as needs change.

The Role of a Neutral Coach

As an integral member of the collaborative team, the neutral coach facilitates communication among all participants in a couple’s divorce process.. The neutral coach has three main tasks: 1) Help the couple move through this process, wherever they are emotionally. 2) Help the team work together effectively. 3) Handle the logistics of the process, such as making sure meetings are scheduled.

  • The coach meets with the couple, both together and individually, to gather information and understand the dynamics and stress points of their particular situation.
  • The coach facilitates all joint meetings. The coach encourages communication among participants, sets expectations for behavior, monitors the participants’ verbal and non-verbal communication and helps manage the unexpected that may be present in the room.
  • The coach encourages and facilitates effective communication between professional members of the team, both in and between joint meetings. 
  • The coach may make referrals to other professionals when more support is needed.

The Role of the Allied Coach

In the two-coach model, each member of the couple has a coach who serves as an ally to them while still keeping the interests of the whole family in mind. 

One difference between the neutral coach and the allied coach is that most of their work happens with individual clients outside of the attorney joint meetings. In one-on-one meetings, the allied coaches help their clients identify their needs and interests and learn to communicate them so they are more likely to be heard. In periodic 4-way meetings, the allied coaches meet together with their respective clients to facilitate communication between the couple and address issues that are causing problems between them. In the joint meetings with attorneys, clients, coaches, and possibly other professionals, the allied coaches help their clients function to achieve the best possible outcome.

  • The allied coaches in coordination with a neutral child specialist assist their clients in developing effective communication and co-parenting skills in the best interests of the children.
  • The allied coaches help clients formulate a vision for their individual futures.
  • The allied coaches may assist the neutral child specialist (when there is one) and the parents in creating a parenting plan.

Coaches are trained to teach you and your spouse helpful communication and self-management skills which are necessary in your settlement discussions, and in your post-divorce co-parenting.  Strategies for communication around decision making and problem solving are critical to ensuring that your needs and interests are clearly expressed.

Coaches help by identifying the underlying needs and wants, to facilitate the negotiations; by teaching co-parenting skills; by teaching and modeling communication skills, problem-solving skills; by helping you develop a roadmap for future relationships within the new family structure; by being a resource into the future as issues arise.  

Coaches help attorneys by providing an overview of the emotional issues which are affecting the clients’ behavior or position; by consulting when there is an impasse in the case; by depathologizing the divorce process; by providing a safe place for clients to deal with emotions and volatility during the legal process; by focusing on the interest and needs of the family as a whole; by being the voice of the children or parent when necessary.

  • The process is transparent. Coaches communicate with each other and with the attorneys frequently. They meet in 4-way meetings or 6-way meetings with you and your spouse, and other professionals as necessary. 

Be sure to select a coach who is experienced and trained in the collaborative practice model.  See “How to Choose Your Collaborative Professionals”

The therapist helps you unpack your bags and examine and sort the contents.  The Divorce Coach helps you carry your bags from one side of the street to the other.

Going forward into their post-divorce lives, the skills that have been learned in coaching are invaluable. For families in transition, the children reap the benefits of having parents who can apply the communication and problem-solving skills learned in coaching to their ongoing co-parenting relationship. And, as one little boy said to his parents after their divorce, “I’m so glad you guys are friends again.” Children need the war to stop. Coaches can help.

Collaborative divorces can actually be harder in some ways than traditional divorces or mediation because they challenge each person to operate from a much more mature level of functioning. As a result of going through the collaborative process, children benefit from your better communication, less acrimony, conflict and hostility. 

Most clients worry about the costs of divorce. A coach usually saves the client money because, unknowingly, and all too often, clients treat their attorneys as their emotional and mental sounding boards. They talk to their lawyer about their challenges and the dynamics with their spouse and, while some of this is pertinent to the outcome of the case, at the attorney’s hourly rate, this is very expensive emotional support! Not only that, your lawyer, while sensitive to your emotions, is not trained to deal with them.

While your attorney makes sure your legal rights are protected, your divorce coach helps make sure everything is being done to help the process go well so that the process can be as successful as possible, as efficiently as possible.