This week my law partner and I are exhibiting at the Georgia Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (GAMFT) conference. I love talking to marriage and family therapists about collaborative practice because they really understand how proactively addressing the parties’ emotional reaction to a divorce can make the process so much easier on everyone, especially the children. They also understand that if a couple fails to address these issues, the emotional and financial costs of the divorce can skyrocket.
In the collaborative process, mental health professionals participate act as coaches or child specialists. Coaches work directly with the couple, both individually and together, to help them communicate well during the delicate process of ending their marriage, to sort through this process, and to focus on the tasks that need to be completed for the divorce to proceed. Coaches also assist the parents in putting together a parenting plan that works for the family. Child specialists become the voice of the children in the process, educating the parents on the kids’ developmental needs as well as their emotional progress.
Some mental health professionals have trouble believing that lawyers consider them important members of the collaborative team. After all, lawyers traditionally have been the mercenaries called in if the counseling process has failed. And we lawyers have contributed to that perception by ignoring our clients’ emotional needs and focusing solely on the “win.”
In truth, the best lawyers (whether collaborative lawyers or litigators) understand that the clients’ emotional needs are as important as their financial needs. They understand that at every turn they must work with the client to analyze the financial and emotional consequences of their strategy. The best family lawyers partner with the client’s therapist(s) to find solutions whenever possible.
Lawyers used to think of themselves as problem solvers, not warriors. It’s time for us to stop focusing on win/lose and start remembering that we need to be part of the solution. It’s time for us to go back to solving problems by working with people, not against them.