CINCINNATI—Divorce is rarely a simple process involving only two people. All too often, children are involved, and parental conflict is common. This conflict is often worse for children than the actual divorce itself.
Now help is available through a growing number of collaborative law programs designed to address divorce-related conflict and family issues outside the courtroom in a holistic manner.
The programs involve teams of lawyers who work directly with couples to address legal and financial needs in a cooperative and collaborative manner. More and more, they include mental health professionals who can help parents manage their emotions and keep their needs and those of their children in perspective.
Pete Dillon, PhD, and Patricia Herman, PhD, both of UC’s department of psychiatry, are part of the Cincinnati Academy of Collaborative Professionals, offering counseling before, during and after divorce. They emphasize that children should never feel or be in the middle of parental conflict.
“Parents who do the most damage to children during their divorce tend to get this confused,” says Dillon. “They never say to themselves, ‘I don’t care how much this hurts the kids, I need to vent about my ex.’ Instead, they convince themselves that the children are better off if they know how ‘mean’ or ‘untrustworthy’ the other parent is.”
Dillon says parents don’t have to be great friends after divorce, and they shouldn’t necessarily strive to be. While both parties need good advice from attorneys, avoiding court is best.
“Instead of trying to be friends,” Dillon says, “parents should think of their divorce as a business partnership. For example, they could schedule monthly lunch meetings to discuss the business of school, medical issues and expenses, among other things.”
Many times, says Herman, clients are referred to them by collaborative law attorneys. But sometimes they identify people who might benefit from collaborative law.
“The people we counsel are not always aware of this divorce litigation alternative,” says Herman “We’re able to tell them more about it so they can decide if it’s the best option for them.”
They seek to enlighten other physicians and health care providers about the collaborative law process so they can inform their patients.
So far, say Dillon and Herman, the addition of mental health experts to collaborative law programs has been successful in other cities. And although the cost of collaborative law is comparable to a litigated divorce, the process can be much more time-efficient.
“And the emotional benefits are invaluable,” says Dillon. “Healing really begins at the beginning of the process, not once the divorce is final.”
For more information, call (513) 475-8710 or visit www.collaborativelaw.com.