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How Divorce Coaching Can Help

Divorce coaching is an intervention designed to help the divorcing individual or couple work through the legal process and effectively complete the emotional tasks that are part of it. The term "coaching" implies that it is different than therapy, and indeed it is. Coaching is a more focused, goal-directed approach that is often shorter in duration than therapy. Its focus is on the legal process, with an overarching goal of helping the client complete that process in a way that keeps the focus on the goals developed by the client and the attorney, and that is less damaging to him/herself and to the children.

The coaching model developed by this author begins with some brief education about the psychology of divorce. This includes printed materials and oral instruction detailing the psychological stages of divorce, the common emotional reactions, how the legal process affects divorcing individuals, and how to maintain an effective working alliance with one's lawyer. Where there are children, additional information is given about the effects of divorce on children, broken down by age and the developmental stage of the child. Added to that is education about effective parenting and co-parenting during and after the divorce.

Once this informational material is covered, the coach helps the client determine how this information applies personally to him/herself. The client assesses what emotional stage s/he is at, what his motivations are in the legal struggle, and most importantly, what are the legal events that will likely effect her. For instance, it is very useful for a client to anticipate that seeing her husband at a four-way meeting will bring back the pain of his leaving and make it harder for her to stay involved in the discussion. It is equally helpful for a client to predict that a temporary visitation order will inflame his anger and adversely affect his time with the children. In the highly emotional world of divorce, to be forewarned is truly to be forearmed, and enacting that protection is the next stage of the coaching process.

As the coach and client tease out the occurring and likely reactions that are helpful vs. those that are not, the client is ready to be trained to manage them in her own best interest. The coach helps the client to prepare scenarios based on the impasses, hot button issues, and misguided reactions than they have identified. The coach creates role-plays that enable the client to go through anticipated legal situations and respond. They then evaluate the responses and when necessary, create more helpful ones. This gives the client ample opportunity to experience the differences between helpful and non-helpful reactions in himself, and to rehearse the better ones. Those of you who may be familiar with role-playing will know that it gets very real, producing the emotions and behaviors that will occur in the real-life situations.

The coaching process helps the client to develop communication skills that will be effective in making her way through the divorce, to reduce emotional turmoil, to manage and contain conflicts, to create opportunities for solutions, and to go forward through and beyond the divorce more confidently. There are benefits for lawyers as well. Having clients who are educated about the process and skilled in self-analysis and self-directedness reduces lawyer-client conflict and lawyer stress, while building an effective working alliance.

Effective in the litigated divorce, coaching is also being combined these days with collaborative family law. In that case lawyers and mental health professional coaches work in teams to provide both clients a comprehensive package of services aimed at producing a reasonable, non-damaging settlement. In either case, divorce coaching is an approach that will grow rapidly as courts continue to seek ways to reduce the harshness and destructive effects of the divorce process.

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