By Carie Silvestri

While divorce is often the best choice for everyone involved, including the children, the impact on them is undeniable. They are the ones who had no say in the decision, the ones who shuttle back and forth between houses and live out of a suitcase.  Minimizing this impact is one of the primary benefits of the collaborative divorce process, and one of the many reasons why parents should consider it. Instead of the court deciding a “one size fits all” schedule, the collaborative process allows parents to make decisions that work best for the children and that give children a voice (although not necessarily a vote) in the decisions that are made that affect them.


But during a divorce, when kids often feel caught in the middle and uncertain about the future, how do the parties ensure the kids’ needs and concerns are heard?  That’s when a professional mental health professional who advocates solely for the benefit of the children is helpful.


What are the different ways mental health professionals might be used in a collaborative case?


There are three roles that a mental health professional can take on to help bring a collaborative case to settlement, and they’re all specific and distinct.


The first is the neutral Mental Health Professional (MHP), who is sometimes thought of as the divorce coach. This is a team member responsible for helping the divorcing couple communicate effectively, develop the parenting plan, and doing other work to help them reach a settlement.


The second is the child specialist, who is part of the collaborative team, but representing the children. The child specialist communicates with the children and relays their feelings and opinions back to the rest of the team. The neutral MHP cannot double as the child specialist, for that will jeopardize her ability to work as a neutral with each parent.


The third is the child therapist, who is not part of the collaborative team, but can confer with the neutral MHP and the child specialist to help them understand what the children think and feel. A child therapist might be involved in helping the child prior to the divorce, and therapy might continue beyond the divorce.


What cases could benefit from a child specialist?


Really, any case involving children who are old enough to express opinions about the divorce. Some might think that child specialists are only needed for high-conflict cases or cases involving “problem children,” or are a luxury exclusively for high-net-worth cases, but the truth is that child specialists can be extremely helpful when they’re involved in cases from the start. Unfortunately, some collaborative teams only use child specialists when they’re in “Hail Mary” mode to try to resolve conflicts that come up during the case. However, in a collaborative divorce case, a child specialist can talk to the children in a manner that doesn’t put them in the middle and report back to the rest of the team about their concerns, giving them a voice in the process.


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