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Your Collaborative Divorce Team: The Mental Health Professional

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Many people who are thinking about collaborative divorce wonder how the process works. "If a lawyer isn't going to fight in court for me," some might even think, "will that lawyer really be able to stick up for me?" You can rest assured that even though the collaborative process takes going to court off the table, your lawyer will be as invested in what you want to get from your divorce decree.

While the Mental Health Professional (MHP) does not perform therapy for the client or the couple, there are a few different roles an MHP can play. The first concerns bringing the couple to the table to negotiate their divorce, and making sure that they communicate effectively throughout. Sometimes, a mental health professional is called a "divorce coach," and when people use that term, they're typically thinking about this facet of a mental health professional's work.

In working with a couple, the MHP makes sure that they're communicating effectively and productively, in a way that helps move them toward a settlement. While it's natural and perfectly understandable to feel emotions throughout a divorce, there are helpful and unhelpful ways to express those emotions toward the ultimate goal of agreeing upon a divorce decree. The MHP helps steer the negotiations toward resolution, working on the emotional aspects that the lawyers aren't specifically trained in-so the lawyers can focus on the elements for which they are specifically trained.

The mental health professional also can help parents work out parenting plans. While some parents already have a sense of what might work best for their children, some aren't entirely cognizant of what best serves their children at various ages. Because mental health professionals understand child development, they can offer insights that can lead parents toward productive discussions focusing on their children.

Some mental health professionals specialize in working with children, and in some cases, they might be brought onto a collaborative team expressly to help children cope with the emotions of divorce. They can be even more challenging for a child than an adult, and different age groups present different challenges. In some cases, one mental health professional can handle all the needs of a couple and their children, but in some cases, there might be one MHP to help the couple through the divorce, and a second to work with just the children.

Collaborative divorce can allow for a faster and better resolution to a divorce than litigation. Though it's not always an easy route to take, the mental health professional can act as a kind of emotional Sherpa, guiding the couple along the divorce settlement path. While disagreements and communication difficulties often lead to couples deciding to divorce, they don't have to impede a couple coming together to create a settlement to help them achieve their best post-divorce lives.

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