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By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT
Individually we are one drop. Together we are an ocean.
Divorce is an emotional process. Getting divorced is a legal one. Some might see the Judge’s decision as the end of the process. But in many ways it is the beginning. The court’s judgment can influence the divided family for years. Responsibilities for children or the financial well-being of the former couple are linked by obligations flowing from the divorce decree.
The best chance for a smoother aftermath from the legal divorce is to tend to both the legal and emotional aspects equally. This is most effectively done when the design of the legal divorce addresses the emotional components as well.
In a litigated divorce, there is usually a team for each side consisting of the attorneys, the accountants, appraisers, or other legal and financial experts. Often the client will have a therapist for support as well. But each “expert” works independently and then reports to a team manager (i.e., the family law attorney). Such an approach is expensive and doesn’t necessarily address both emotional and legal needs of the couple.
An alternative approach is mediation. In mediation there is an opportunity to engage all the facets involved in the divorce process and attend to them in ways that can lead to long-term satisfaction. It is here that team mediation has an advantage. At the Center for Cooperative Divorce each mediation team joins a mediator-psychotherapist with a mediator-attorney working together with the couple to sort out the legal issues in ways that tend to the emotional ones. There are many mediator-therapists and mediator-attorneys. Therapist-mediators may have some legal training, they don’t have the competency of an attorney. Many attorney-mediators have some therapy training, but don’t have the competency of a psychotherapist. Why not bring the two together? That’s exactly what is done at the Center.
To further add to the diversity of expertise and variety in viewpoints, each team has a male and female mediator. This can be helpful for some couples in tending to fears of gender bias or lack of empathy.
Our approach is designed to avoid trips back to court because the emotional influences were not recognized and addressed.