by Sharon Klempner, MSW, LCSW, BCD

Divorce is almost never easy, especially when children are involved. So many things need to be considered and resolved.

Until 25 years ago, couples dissolving their relationship had no choice but to litigate, possibly going before a judge who made their disputed decisions for them. Next, the method of mediation, with a neutral mediator who could offer information but not advice or opinions, became more prevalent. Clients had to negotiate for themselves. Then came collaborative divorce, a newer method of alternative dispute resolution, chosen by savvy couples who want to make their own decisions. Each spouse/partner has his/her own attorney, to advocate for them in an open and civil manner, and each spouse/partner signs an Agreement to not go to Court, keeping control over the outcome and maintaining privacy.

Over the years, the collaborative process evolved to the establishment of a professional organization, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals [IACP]. It now has 5000 collaborative professionals, providing services in 25 countries. On September 10, 2014, Governor Christie signed into law the New Jersey Collaborative Family Law Act which took effect on December 9, 2014. New Jersey collaborative professionals are proud to be in the vanguard of helping couples dissolve their partnership/divorce in a non-adversarial manner to preserve the sanctity of the family, in two homes.

Consumers need to ask attorneys, who claim to be collaborative attorneys, if they are a member of the IACP and, if so, if they have completed collaborative trainings. There are nine collaborative practice groups throughout New Jersey. The Collaborative Divorce Association of North Jersey, for example, requires its members to have 40 hours of mediation training, in addition to training in collaborative divorce. Their members have continued advanced training each year to maintain and expand their skills.

In addition to attorneys, a collaborative divorce team often includes a mental health professional and a financial neutral. Licensed mental health professionals serve in any of the following roles: as a facilitator, to keep the process on a good ‘emotional track’, or as a divorce coach, to help couples to cope with and overcome the emotional obstacles to a more dignified divorce or dissolution of their partnership. A child specialist is a licensed clinical mental health professional who works with children and understands the dilemma of divorce for children, of all ages. He/she meets with the parents and children, briefly, to help the parents understand their children’s needs and wishes. Children often don’t tell their parents all that they are feeling because they don’t want to anger or hurt them. Although the facilitator, coach and child specialist are licensed mental health professionals, they are NOT offering therapy in collaborative divorce. They do utilize their clinical skills to guide parents and children in navigating the muddy waters of the family in change.

Licensed collaborative financial professionals are on hand to protect family’s interests by reviewing assets, debt and incomes to develop viable options for the future. They are skilled not only in dealing with numbers but are sensitive to the emotional needs of couples who are coming apart.

The collaborative team approach offers couples professionals with specific areas of expertise in divorce. For example, a couple would not be paying attorney fees, when addressing issues that have to do solely with emotions or communication which are handled by mental health practitioners, at a lower fee. The collaborative team is a well-oiled machine with each professional serving his/her specific role and communicating with other team members to offer a more comprehensive way of addressing the multitude of issues that arise.

Why Select Collaborative Divorce?

• Cost – collaborative law is typically less costly than a traditional divorce. It focuses on directly resolving issues instead of extended litigation.
• Confidentiality – in a private office, not in the courtroom
• Personal attention – there’s no judge reviewing documents and making decisions for you. You work directly with collaborative professionals who are dedicated to helping you both to create a plan that’s right for your unique situation and family.
• Convenience – There is no court schedule. Collaborative professionals work around your time frame and respect your emotional readiness to continue or take a breather if you need one.
• Specific expertise – a team of divorce experts with specialized training and experience is available to most efficiently address your family situation.
• Family Focused – The collaborative method helps you protect your children from damaging fallout of a contentious divorce. The goal is to preserve parents’ mutual respect to ensure cooperative co-parenting, crucial to children’s development.

By choosing the collaborative method, couples benefit from the professionals’ dedication to establish effective and respectful co-parenting. This process helps families to adapt to their new situation and be able to thrive. After the divorce is over, team members are available, to advise on issues post-divorce or to revise any aspect of the Agreement.

About The Author

Sharon Klempner, MSW, LCSW, BCD is a psychotherapist with an office in Ridgewood. She sees children, adolescents, adults and couples. She is a mediator, collaborative coach and child specialist as well as a stepfamily counselor, reunification therapist and parenting coordinator.