The Role of Family Therapists in Collaborative Divorce

Therapists can assist the collaborative process in several ways. First, the parties can agree to have a mental health professional available during the process to assist with the emotional aspects of negotiations. Sometimes a therapist would sit in on meetings and sometimes would just meet with parties one on one or together outside the legal meetings. The role of the mental health professional in this situation is to give guidance to the parties as they face the emotional challenges of the settlement discussions. The second way a mental health professional can assist in the collaborative process is as a child expert. In this circumstance the parties are faced with a difficult child related issue and agree that they need the guidance of a therapist before making important decisions about their child. The therapist would, in this case, likely meet the child in the therapist’s office and would meet with both parents in the therapist’s office. Then the therapist would attend one or more meetings of the collaborative law team to inform the group on the difficult child-related issue and assist as needed when the parents are negotiating child issues. A formal written report is not typical, but is not forbidden. The third way that a therapist can assist the collaborative process is to become the therapist for one of the parties outside the collaborative law process. It is important to have therapists who understand the collaborative method of divorce so that they can encourage and assist parties with the unique demands of sitting face to face with a soon to be ex spouse.

Mental health professionals who participate in the collaborative process do not have to testify in court. Collaborative cases do not go to court! In the rare circumstance that the collaborative process is unsuccessful and the parties choose to pursue litigation, a mental health professional who has participated in the process under scenarios one and two listed above are off limits in the litigation process. In situation three above, they are only as available as any other treating mental health professional would be.

The cost that a mental health professional charges for his or her services is up to that professional. It is assumed that a mental health professional will charge for time spent in his or her office meeting with parties or children AND for time spent in collaborative law meetings. The parties discuss payment for these services in the collaborative meeting and agree on how the fees should be paid.