Psychologists and Divorce Coaching in Collaborative Divorce

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Psychologists and Divorce Coaching in Collaborative Divorce

Jim Windell


            Following the common law of England, the people who formed colonies in what would come to be America didn’t need a religious or even a civil ceremony in order to be married. Essentially, the uniting of two people in a marriage needed only be witnessed by a third person. By the middle of the 19th century marriage ceremonies evolved into a more elaborate ritual that assumed legality. But once marriage became legally institutionalized, divorce did as well. And, when lawyers got involved in the dissolution of a marriage, they approached divorce using the tools of trial law – including oratory and argument.

          Laws required proof of serious mental illness or wrongdoing in order to justify limitations of custodial arrangements or termination of parental rights, and lawyers rose to the challenge by attacking, exposing and shaming spouses. As a result, many divorced families became “broken families” with no healthy pathway forward for either parents or children after the wreckage wrought by the attorneys.

          That changed to a large degree when the first no-fault divorce laws were passed in California in 1            970, followed quickly similar laws in all other states. At the same time as the shift toward no-fault divorce, pioneering attorneys began to develop the process of Divorce Mediation. Divorce Mediation recognizes that divorcing spouses need not be pitted against each other and that uncoupling does not require winners or losers. Rather, clients could work together outside of court to create mutually acceptable agreements regarding their children and their finances.

          But, as the authors of an article that is soon out in the APA journal Practice Innovations point out, Divorce Mediation has limitations and Collaborative Divorce represents a paradigm shift that allows psychologists the opportunity to provide services to clients.

          In the article entitled “Collaborative Divorce: A Paradigm Shift in Theory and Practice,” psychologists Abby Cole, Ph.D., Elaine Ducharme, Ph.D., Wendy Habelow, Ph.D. and Elizabeth Thayer, Ph.D., argue that psychologists can serve as Neutral Collaborative Divorce Coaches while working on a Collaborative team with family law attorneys and financial professionals to help clients divorce with transparency, respect and dignity.

           According to Dr. Elaine Ducharme, a Glastonbury, Connecticut psychologist, the article was intended to provide an overview of Collaborative Divorce in order to inform psychologists about this pathway to divorce for their clients and to show a career path for psychologists in forensics outside of court.

          According to Dr. Ducharme, “The article begins with a brief history of divorce including the emergence of the Collaborative Divorce movement and we then go on to highlight the defining features of Collaborative Divorce. We contrast Collaborative Divorce with traditional litigation as well as psychologists’ traditional forensic roles.”

          She also points out that the article spells out specific roles and responsibilities of the psychologist as a Neutral Collaborative Divorce Coach, including strategies for managing impasses in working with couples. “We also wanted to offer suggestions for building a collaborative practice and the need for specialized training for psychologists who wish to be involved in Collaborative Divorce,” she adds.

          Dr. Ducharme says that this article focuses on the one Coach model, referred to as Coach or Divorce Coach. “In this model,” she explains, “psychologists do not function as individual therapists, but instead as a Coach, applying their knowledge in the areas of attachment, loss, interpersonal process, and child development as they partner with collaborative attorneys and financial professionals. As a team, the professionals provide clients and each other with expertise in the three components of divorce: legal, financial, and emotional.”

          Collaborative Divorce, according to Dr. Ducharme and her colleagues, supports divorcing families in creating their own agreements in a respectful and open manner. It is founded on a commitment to resolve disputes outside of the formal court system, without threat of litigation. In effect, divorcing parents work together in the best interests of their children, protecting them from the divorce process and creating parenting plans that will best support their growth and development.

          To read the article, find it with this reference:

Cole, A., Ducharme, E., Habelow, W. & Thayer, E. (2023).  Collaborative divorce: A paradigm shift in theory and practice. Practice Innovations.



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