The Benefits of Divorce Coaches in Collaborative Divorce

Phone ButtonOne of the most value added benefits of collaborative divorce is the use of divorce coaches. But, it is also the least understood of the professional roles in the Collaborative Divorce process.  Clients typically see the value that the financial neutral and child specialist bring to their process.  But, folks seem to have a harder time seeing the benefits of a divorce coach before we begin the process. Divorce coaches are licensed therapists that work with each spouse in a collaborative divorce to help them move through the process as focused, and therefore efficiently, as possible. There are many significant benefits of having divorce coaches in your case: 1.  They save you money.  This part is not intuitive.  Many clients initially react to the idea of a divorce coach by seeing only an additional expense; one more person they have to pay to be divorced.  But, the reality is that divorce coaches save clients money.  How?  First, many of the hours that clients pay me for are spent discussing non-legal issues that would be more effectively addressed by a divorce coach.  And, a divorce coach charges about half of the hourly rate of an experienced collaborative divorce attorney.  So, by using the divorce coach as the right tool for the right issues, clients can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars during their process.  And, while spending less money, they also get help from human emotion and behavior experts (instead of lawyers) for the non-legal aspects of their divorce. 2.  They are the right tool for non-legal and non-financial issues.  Every divorce has three components:  Legal, financial and emotional.  Lawyers are best at handling the legal issues.  Financial neutrals are best at handling the financial issues.  Divorce coaches are best at helping people shape their emotions, communication and interactions with their spouses and children through the divorce process.  You wouldn’t ask a therapist for legal advice; why ask a lawyer for coaching? 3.  They know the Collaborative Process.  Unlike your therapist, your friends or your family, a collaborative divorce coach is highly trained in the Collaborative Process.  They know how it works, what you will experience, and where the tough spots will be.  They understand how and why collaborative divorce is different than an adversarial process, and how those differences work for you. Unlike your therapist, they will be privy to information from the other professionals in the process, including your spouse’s coach and your child specialist.  Unlike your therapist, they can assimilate information from you, lawyers, financial neutrals, and child specialists to help you through your specific collaborative divorce. Unlike your therapist, they are not there to do therapy!  They are there to help you recognize and address roadblocks to expressing yourself effectively and reaching a resolution. 4.  They speed things up.  In a divorce negotiation, an indelicate word or tense conversation can create emotional distractions that take days or weeks to dissolve.  A coach helps you process that anger, frustration, or hurt so you can re-focus and move on with the resolution process.  A conversation with a skilled collaborative divorce coach can be worth weeks or months of time; time you could be devoting to building the next stage of your life, attending to your kids’ adjustment or fostering your new relationship. There are many more benefits to having someone in your corner that is trained to understand the emotional ride of divorce and apply that knowledge to help you through the Collaborative Process. It is impossible to know exactly how you will benefit from a divorce coach in your specific divorce ahead of time.  But, its is a rare case that is not more efficient, effective and focused with divorce coaches.    

Good Family Lawyers are Problem Solvers

Rubix CubeI’m now in my 14th year of practicing law.  While I’m not yet a planning any retirement parties, I’ve got a fair bit of my life invested in this profession. Over that time, I have noticed an evolution in the way I think about the law and my role in it. Fresh out of law school, I, like most new lawyers, saw getting the “right” legal answer as the goal of practicing law.  Each client and case was an exam question that I wanted to get right. Then, it evolved into a need to “win.” You realize that the “right” answer doesn’t always win the day (and may not even exist); you want to win.  Even if the legal basis is dubious or makes poor policy, you want to win for your client, and yourself. 

Analytics: “There aren’t many clear cut ‘winners’ in domestic proceedings.”

Analytics Analytics has confirmed what family law attorneys have known anecdotally for a long time:  There are not many clear cut winners in divorce cases in court. Analytics has taken root in almost every industry in the world. Now it’s even made it’s way to the notoriously mushy world of family law. As described in this article in the Miami Herald, an analytics firm recently dug into data from litigated (i.e. outcome decided by a judge) family law cases in Miami.  The results paint a pretty ugly picture for anyone considering asking a court to determine their divorce and related legal outcomes. According to the researchers, the results of the analysis revealed three important dynamics: 1. Favoritism exists: Judges appear to have favorite lawyers and those favorites fare better with those judges. 2. Big firms offer a 7% outcome benefit, but for a significantly higher cost. 3. More expensive attorneys do not win more than less expensive attorneys. There are some caveats to be mentioned here in my mind:  First, it could be that good lawyers choose their battles more effectively, settle their weaker cases or prepare more effectively; and that could be why they have higher win rates with particular judges.  Favoritism is one possible explanation, but it may not be the correct one.  The numbers are curious nonetheless. Another caveat is given by the authors, but it is even more alarming than the results!  The researchers admit that “determining win rates is highly problematic.”  Why?  Because, “there really aren’t many clear ‘winners’ in domestic proceedings.” The researchers go so far as to claim that “Family law is the Wild West of the Legal profession.”  (Que the Gunsmoke theme music) Given all of this, it seems that a savvy consumer would steer clear of court when getting divorced.  Choosing a process that allows them to determine their own outcome and allows both parties to define their own “win” seems to me to be a far better choice than “the Wild West.” The good news is that in North Carolina, there are great alternatives to the Wild West. Collaborative Law allows a divorcing couple to keep their divorce out of high noon duels in the courtroom.  It allows a couple to sit down and negotiate a resolution face to face with the help of their attorneys, and other professionals.  There are no bullets to dodge, no posses to round up (and pay), and no hired guns to fear. The objective evidence against getting a positive divorce outcome in court continues to mount.  It’s a good thing alternatives exist.  

How I Care for Divorcing Clients

Icon made by Freepik from

Icon made by Freepik from

    On Caring by Milton Mayerhoff is one of the most personally important and impactful books that I have ever read, and probably will ever read. It is a summary and explanation of what it means to care for oneself and others, both philosophically and practically. I had been practicing law for over a decade before I found the book.  But, one particular passage succinctly described the guiding principle that I had developed for my representation of, and caring for, clients:

When I care for an adult…I try to avoid making decisions for him.  I help him make his own decisions by providing information, suggesting alternatives, and pointing out possible consequences, but all along I realize that they are his decisions to make and not my own.

To my mind, this passage is the foundation for effectively helping clients through a divorce. Some attorneys have trouble allowing clients to make their own decisions, and feel compelled to “guide” clients to making whatever decision the attorney himself would make in that situation. And, while it is not always easy, remembering that a client’s decisions are hers to make and not my own, is the key to effectively helping her make those decisions.  And, that, so far as I have come to understand it, is the key to truly caring for clients.

Why Smart People Can Have Dumb Divorces

Left brain = logical thinking Right brain = emotional thinking

Left brain = logical thinking
Right brain = emotional thinking

Working in Research Triangle Park (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) a region renowned for its education level, I have the privilege of working with a lot of very smart people.  Doctors, professors, business executives, entrepreneurs, nurses, techies, and domestic geniuses all bring healthy IQ’s to the collaborative divorce conference, mediation or negotiating table. Certainly raw intelligence helps in a divorce.  The ability to learn, process and analyze complex legal issues and numbers is immensely helpful to efficiently resolving a divorce. But, in my experience, it pales in comparison to the ability to recognize, understand, process and deftly handle the emotional component of divorce, both in yourself and in your spouse.

Why Arguing is So Expensive in Divorce

In divorce, time is money.  Most divorce attorneys charge by 6 minute increments.  That means that you are going to pay anywhere from $2.50 to $7.50 or more per minute for your divorce attorney’s work. Legal BillI would be greatly concerned about using my attorney efficiently.  I would want more money going into my pocket, my kids’ college, or my retirement than to attorneys. To be sure, skimping on an attorney for a divorce is not a good idea.  That can lead to very expensive mistakes. But, paying more than necessary for your attorney can be avoided. In my experience, the number one factor in the legal fees in a divorce is not the hourly rate of an attorney.  Rather, it is the amount of time that a client pays an attorney to do things other than help resolve their case.

Don’t Confuse Arguing for Negotiating

Arm WrestlingDoes your attorney argue or negotiate? Arguing is not the same as negotiating. Negotiation, at its root, is problem solving.  It is the act of solving joint problems. Arguing, by contrast, is at its best the act of trying to persuade someone to adopt your point of view. It is the act of trying to convince someone else that you are right, and they are wrong. At its worst it is trying to convince someone that that you are worthy and they are not; they are bad, and you are good. Negotiating involves a consideration of the other party’s perspective, and what they need from the negotiation.  It involves some degree of effort to meet the other party’s needs in a resolution, in recognition that resolution is a two way street. By contrast, argument ignores the other party’s part in a resolution.  It treats the other party as if their agreement is not required for resolution.  It says to the other person “You are an obstacle to me having what I want.”  That may be true, but

In Divorce, It Pays to Be Nice

When trying to influence someone, as in a divorce negotiation, respect and politesse go a long way.

When trying to influence someone, as in a divorce negotiation, respect and politesse go a long way.

I often have conversations with clients about “catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  Angry people are not very generous or considerate.  So, if you can try not to anger your spouse in a divorce negotiation, then your outcome is almost always going to be better. This short musing inspired by Richard Pryor makes the point nicely, I think.

What Hostage Negotiations Teach Us About Divorce Negotiations

As it turns out, a divorce negotiation is a lot like a hostage negotiation.   Just not in the way you probably think.    I never would have thought about that.  But, a recent interview with a former FBI hostage negotiator in Men’s Journal made it apparent.  Gary Noesner’s interview in the April issue of the magazine gave six keys to effective negotiation under high stress situations.  Not coincidentally, these are the same rules that good collaborative attorneys and mediators follow when negotiating a divorce settlement.  Anybody going through a divorce would do well to keep these in mind, and to find an attorney who understands these techniques:

Autonomy Buckets

One frequent topic of co-parenting discussions is how much autonomy each parent will have when making decisions about the children.  How will decisions be made by the parents to benefit the children now that interaction and communication between parents is less frequent and maybe more difficult?

I like to talk to clients about “Autonomy Buckets”, a concept I learned from Cat Zavis, an attorney, mediator and expert communicator in Washington state.