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Bob Walsh and Norm Dasenbrook
Aug 10, 2010

Collaborative Law: What Does It Mean for Counselors and Clients?

It has been estimated that over one million children in the United States will be affected by divorce each year. We all know that almost 50% of marriages end in divorce, with up to 70% of second marriages ending that way. While it is extremely painful for a family to break up, our divorce process can make this difficult situation even worse. As it currently exists in our society, divorce is frequently adversarial, emotionally and draining financially, emotionally destructive, costly, done in public and can leave long lasting scars.

“Collaborative law” is the newest (and sanest) way to get divorced. Collaborative law is a simple and profound concept that is client centered, client empowered and client controlled. As defined by the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, (CL) “is a method of resolving differences and making decisions through strategic cooperation, rather than litigation, to find the best solutions for everyone involved.” states, “Collaborative Practice is the alternative to divorce as usual. It is designed to minimize the hurt, the loss of self esteem, the anger and alienation that occur too frequently with divorce”. Collaborative law can:
•Reduce stress and adversarial posturing
•Promote healthy communication
•Protect privacy
•Help clients maintain control over decision making
•Be less costly and more efficient
•Create agreements that are more likely to be adhered to by clients
•Provide a multi-disciplinary supportive team approach
•Accomplish a life transition in a civil and respectful manner

Collaborative law practice utilizes experts from the disciplines of law, mental health and finances. To begin with, divorcing partners each retain an attorney that is trained in collaborative law. An agreement is signed that all parties agree not to go to court. Because divorce is 80% emotional and 20% legal, the expertise of the “interdisciplinary team” helps provide the information needed to focus the parties on the various options available.

Additional collaborative law trained professionals such as a divorce coach, a child specialist or a financial expert may participate or may be the first collaborative law professional the parties see. A release of information is signed so all parties communicate openly with each other. The parties meet privately with their team members and negotiate in good faith. The integrated model of collaborative law provides the couple with the services they need from the professionals most qualified to address the complex issues of divorce.

The collaborative professionals work together to help divorcing couples achieve an outcome that would not be possible without cooperative team involvement, which is the cornerstone of the collaborative law process. Should the process not succeed, the attorneys are prohibited from representing either party in court.

The collaborative law divorce coaches and child specialists are licensed mental health professionals (LCPC, LCSW, PhD, PsyD, LMFT, etc.) who have completed the basic 40 hour mediation training and have attended a two day training, focusing on the collaborative process. Most models of collaborative law practice include divorce coaches and child specialists as team members.

This could provide another income stream for a private practice. The divorce coach helps one of the parties deal more effectively with the process. The coach helps with communication, prioritizing of needs and goals, maintaining a future orientation, helps the client to see self-defeating behaviors and assists with the emotional needs of the client. The coach also helps the attorneys deal more effectively with the parties to assist in good faith negotiation. The child specialist helps the parents recognize what is in the best interests of the children in terms of custody and co-parenting, given their ages and developmental needs.

Collaborative divorce is another option mental health professionals have to recommend to their clients who may be contemplating divorce. Intrinsically, the end of a marriage or relationship is painful enough, but with a new approach, clients and their children can be helped to see a hopeful future. Please, search out collaborative law mental health professionals and attorneys in your area and become more acquainted with their services.
Internet Resources:

Eileen McCarten, MA. LCPC co-authored this blog. She is a counselor in private practice and a mediator in Illinois and Wisconsin. She is the director of Family Matters-PACT which provides parent education, mediation and counseling services for families experiencing change and transition. Eileen can be contacted at

Norm Dasenbrook and Bob Walsh are counselors in private practice, consultants, and authors (

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