Collaborative Divorce is a “newer” approach to divorce. It is newer because many people have never heard of it and have no idea about it’s many advantages, although it has been a process option for divorcing couples in Illinois for quite some time.
Collaborative is a team approach to the divorce process. Each individual has his/her own attorney, there is one financial neutral, and either one or two mental health professionals functioning in a coaching capacity.
Collaboration is a process that guides, supports, and educates the clients, with the couple ultimately making the decisions that are best for them. Teamwork is an integral part of what sets this process apart. Clients are often concerned about the cost of hiring so many professionals, however the cost of the process may be less than in litigation. Cooperation and respect are stressed. The couple learns communication skills with the hope that they will be able to utilize these skills post-divorce and have the ability of maintaining a courteous relationship, which benefits them and also greatly benefits their children, no matter how old the children are.
The Collaborative team must work as a unit to assist divorcing couples through this process. Learning often occurs best through observation. The team is in a position of demonstrating new skills to their clients. Each professional speaks respectfully and courteously to the entire team, of which the clients are the most important part.
What helps a team function effectively? Imagine a team that argues amongst itself, is sarcastic toward team members, refuses to acknowledge any other point of view, is not open to listening to the “other” client. These are some of the many hazards of a poorly functioning team.
What are the characteristics of a fully functioning team? How does a team form, and what do the team members do to ensure that the team is functioning effectively and can assist the clients through the process in a productive and caring way?
Teams form in many ways. Most teams are formed after the clients have retained attorneys. These attorneys then assemble a team of professionals they feel would work best with the particular clients involved. In other cases, teams can be formed by mental health professionals or financial professionals, as this may be the point of entry for the client. There is no one right way of assembling a team.
Once a team has been formed, the very first step is for the professionals to have a conversation about what expectations each as of the others. This would occur prior to any meetings in which the clients join in. Topics to be addressed would include every aspect from expectations for scheduling meetings and timing of meetings, to be methods of communication for each team member (email, phone, etc.). Discussions about consistent billing among professionals would be addressed, and another of the many topics would be how to go about having productive difficult conversations with clients–the ultimate goal of all settlement meetings.
The saying of communicate, communicate, communicate cannot be stressed enough. Communication is a requirement every step of the way. Debriefs after each client meeting with all of the professionals help keep the lines of communication open. For this process to work most effectively, every team member has the responsibility of openly talking to all of the other professionals in a very honest way. This is the only path that will help teams improve and learn how to be more effective. The question of what could have been done differently to make the meeting more productive is asked over and over again.
A Collaborative professional teamwork checklist has been created by Mark Weiss, JD and the Seattle Collaborative Pod. The checklist was shared at the recent International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) 2019 Forum. The checklist has three separate and equally important categories for each professional team to address prior to meeting with clients as well as discussions to have during the process and even after the process has been successfully completed. The categories are: relationship functions, process functions, and task functions. Lastly, each team member must become more familiar with IACP standards and ethics (a booklet has been created to address what the minimum expectations are for Collaborative teams. All Collaborative professionals must know what the minimum expectations are so that they will have the ability and commitment to exceed them.
Ultimately, the clients benefit most when the team understands and demonstrates the ability of communicating and has the willingness to learn better ways of interacting with each other in order to move the process forward. Everyone must be willing to truly listen and try to see the other’s perspective—a difficult task but one that is a must for Collaborative Divorce to reach its full potential. The professionals are in a leadership role during the settlement conferences and have the ability to help the clients learn new and better ways of interacting with each other–both in present and hopefully in the future.
Ellene Lammers, LCSW
977 Lakeview Pkwy. Ste. 102
Vernon Hills, IL 60061