By Heather A. Cooper & Dr. Leah Nathan, Cooper Ginsberg Gray, PLLC, Jan 2018
Michelle sat nervously across from the attorney, answering questions about her family’s finances as best she could during the initial interview. Michelle never thought she would find herself in the office of a divorce attorney, but her husband’s sudden and unilateral proclamation that their marriage was “over” propelled her into new and uncomfortable circumstances.
• How long has your husband been contributing to the retirement plan?
• When you purchased the house, what was the source of funds for the down payment?
• Do you receive bonuses as part of your compensation package?
As Michelle shuffled through the paperwork that she had haphazardly shoved in her bag before leaving for the appointment, looking for the answers to the attorney’s questions, the lawyer was already identifying the legal issues that would likely arise in the case. However, the other professional in the room was identifying issues of a much different nature — issues that needed as much, if not more, immediate attention and continual consideration and monitoring throughout the divorce process.
Seated next to Michelle’s attorney was the law firm’s Divorce Coach, a psychologist whose primary concern was not the source of funds used to accumulate assets or how the family’s income was structured, but rather whether Michelle was emotionally ready for the challenges that the divorce would bring.
The Divorce Coach listened carefully to Michelle’s statements and observed her reactions and demeanor. She then remarked to both Michelle and the attorney that Michelle appeared to be in the first phase of the grief cycle, characterized by denial, confusion, shock, and fear. Michelle exhaled because the Divorce Coach had verbalized exactly what she was feeling.
Michelle was devastated by a situation over which she had no control and terrified of the impact that separation and divorce would inevitably have on the children and her financial security. The attorney, grateful for the Divorce Coach’s input, refocused her questions to ensure that all of Michelle’s issues and concerns were being addressed in a sensitive nature.
“Divorce coaching,” an often unfamiliar term for many divorcing spouses (and even family law attorneys), is an active, individualized service geared towards helping clients navigate the emotional roller coaster of divorce, make informed decisions, adapt to change, and envision their future after the divorce. The American Bar Association has recognized divorce coaching as a goal-oriented process designed to help clients make the best possible decisions for their future based on their particular interests, needs, and concerns. The Divorce Coach becomes the client’s objective “thinking partner” as she traverses the three primary phases of the divorce:
• Should I stay or should I go?
• How can I possibly get through this?
• How do I adjust to my new life?
With a thinking partner to assist with the emotional challenges that the process brings, the client is able to manage stress more effectively and work more efficiently with the lawyer in developing an action plan for optimal success (whether through settlement or litigation).
Divorce Coaches can assist in a variety of other ways, such as:
• Compiling personality profiles of the client and the spouse (which can be extremely beneficial to the overall legal strategy);
• Preparing clients for the reactions (expected and unexpected) of their spouse to different issues or triggers;
• Helping clients become more efficient in their communications and interactions with the attorney (whose hourly rate is often more expensive than that of the Divorce Coach, thereby providing overall cost savings for the client);
• Teaching clients effective ways of communicating with their children and addressing the emotions and issues presented by them during (and after) the divorce;
• Providing unique tools for stress management (such as the use of breathing techniques, role plays, journaling, etc.); and
• Spotting issues that the attorney might not otherwise know to look for (such as the effect that an event in a client’s childhood may be having on his/her approach to issues in the divorce).
People, who find themselves in the midst of a divorce, whether by their choice or that of their spouse, can benefit from the services of a law firm that recognizes the significance and importance not only of the family’s financial and legal issues but the emotional issues as well. Divorce coaching compliments the expertise and essential services of the attorney and often reduces the overall costs of the divorce.
When a Divorce Coach is involved, attorneys can devote more time and effort to the legal aspects of the case and rest assured that clients are better able to make informed decisions and cooperate more effectively with the legal process. At the same time, the client feels increasingly empowered, having become equipped with empirically validated strategies for coping with stress, effectively communicating with her spouse, children, and attorney, and envisioning the future.
Heather A. Cooper is one of three founding partners of Cooper Ginsberg Gray, PLLC, a family law firm serving the Northern Virginia area; Dr. Leah Nathan is the firm’s Psychologist/Divorce Coach who works closely with the firm’s attorneys. Dr. Nathan offers one-on-one divorce coaching and facilitates complimentary seminars and support groups for Cooper Ginsberg Gray, PLLC’s clients. Learn more about Divorce Coaching here.
Cooper Ginsberg Gray, PLLC is located at 10201 Fairfax Blvd., Suite 520, Fairfax, VA 22030. Visit them online or by calling (703) 934-1480.