Welcome to the archived web site of
Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. Psychologist (1950-2013)
California License No. PSY 10092
Specializing in Presence-Centered Therapy
balancing mind and heart, body and spirit

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Collaborative Divorce:
Divorce is a Family Problem, Start with a Family Specialist

© 2009 By Shendl Tuchman, Psy.D. and Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[Reprinted from East Bay Psychologist, Newsletter of the Alameda County
Psychological Association, Summer, 2006, pages 16-17.]

"And what's romance? Usually, a nice little tale where you are everything as you like it, where rain never wets your jacket and gnats never bite your nose and it's always daisy-time."
—D. H. Lawrence

"Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky."
—Rainer Maria Rilke

D. H. Lawrence reminds us that "romance" isn't what it was ever cracked up to be, especially in modern marriages. Marriages often end because fantasies do not become realities and attempts to maintain the marriage and challenge the fantasies are not successful. In Rilke's vision, spouses could create civil, respectful interactions, including "loving the distance between them." We view this as possible even during a divorce and the subsequent restructuring of families.

This article should start with a series of questions: What is a divorce? Is it a legal construct to dissolve a contract? Is it a financial conundrum involving the splitting of joint assets with some messy emotional ramifications? Is it a psychological event, replete with trauma, anger, resignation, change and the emotional/relational issues of respectfully completing a marriage arrangement to everyone's satisfaction? Generally, it includes some of all of the above, but we perceive divorce as primarily about the emotional life of families and the changes created by the decision to divorce.

When there are children involved, shocked parents begin to grieve the loss of the familiar family structure, an emotional experience which can impair decision making as it relates to how they will all transition to a newly structured family. Usually, the family does not cease to exist, but transitions from the pre-divorce, all-in-one house version to the post-divorce, separate residence version in an effort to accommodate a new way to raise their children together. It is our view that helping couples to see their divorce as a reshaping of the family, not an ending, and not a disappearance so much as a transition, is a useful beginning point.

George Demont Otis        Hills of Two Counties

Collaborative Divorce, a non-litigious approach to divorce, has emerged over the past decade. It is a model for a divorcing couple to work as a team with psychological professionals such as divorce coaches, child specialists, lawyers and financial advisors to resolve disputes respectfully, without going to court. It removes the disputed matter from the courtroom setting and focuses on problem solving rather than competition. The goal is a win/win situation for all rather than the zero-sum offered through the judicial system. This model helps couples better preserve their autonomy, privacy, sense of control and ability to work creatively with a range of outcomes and options available outside the restricted range offered by the court.

Traditionally, there have been three standard models available to divorcing couples. First, couples pursuing the traditional advocacy/litigation approach to divorce often find the courts making significant choices regarding their lives and their children's lives. Next is the do-it-yourself, kitchen table model in which couples negotiate face-to-face without professionals and reach agreements using "cookbook forms" that are commonly available in book form and over the internet, which may or may not be perused by an attorney to formalize their agreement. A third approach is "mediation" in which divorcing spouses use a neutral third party to help facilitate an agreement. This person is usually an attorney, psychological professional or trained mediator, with specific skills in conflict resolution and power dynamics.

While these three models may sometimes be effective when considering the particular needs and resources of the parties, none pay sufficient heed to the myriad of attendant emotional considerations. Psychological professionals trained in the Collaborative Divorce model help safeguard the emotional well-being of the spouses and their children. This enables the work to start with the clear acknowledgment of the psychological nature of the upcoming changes and also includes the legal and financial issues that grow from these changes.

As part of the team, coaches work with families to make the transitions they are experiencing consistent with their family's post-divorce goals. While the divorce coaches and child specialists are licensed psychological professionals, they do not provide therapy. They work with divorcing families to achieve the goals and desires they both share, even if they do not necessarily start out agreeing on how to get there. These psychological professionals are family specialists trained in dealing with the family as a whole system, observing alignments forming and shifting, the manner in which emotions are experienced, the role of each member and many other family dynamics as they intervene to help spouses and children cope with those emotions often experienced in a divorce-shock, crisis, change and sometimes trauma.

Collaborative Coaches work with clients individually to explore desires and perceived difficulties in coming to an agreement with the other party. Coaches function as communication specialists to aid the divorcing spouses as they develop effective ways to talk through co-parenting issues (if there are children) and find mutually satisfactory agreements. For example, a mother who insisted that she get the family home in the divorce "knew" this was the "right" thing to happen and yet had some difficulty expressing why. With work, it eventually became clear that when her parents divorced, her mother kept the family home with no questions asked. As a result, she assumed "mothers get the house." Once she became aware of this belief in the work with her divorce coach, the conversation with the father changed dramatically.

Child Specialists work with the children to ensure their needs and concerns are given a clear "voice" and do not get lost in the enormity of the transition. While children do not "make decisions" their lives are greatly impacted by their parents' decisions, and benefit by having clear and strong representation by the Child Specialist on the team.

Most importantly, there is a commitment to working through the process to completion. Should their differences seem insurmountable and one or both decide to take it to court, the team will withdraw from the case, the records will be sealed and they must begin another approach to divorce, often an adversarial process with new attorneys. This defining structural principle often helps divorcing couples stay focused on doing effective work and making forward progress.

Collaborative Divorce may not be less expensive than litigating. Even if the cost is comparable to litigating, the divorcing couple and family have fashioned their future without third party intervention. Typical cost estimates range from $5,000 to $25,000 for a collaborative divorce and $15,000 to $50,000 or more for a litigated divorce. Time-wise, collaborative divorces typically take 6 to 12 months for settlement filing while litigation may often take two years or longer. 1

The Collaborative Divorce team approach is viewed as a cutting edge paradigm shift and a methodology used increasingly to impact the negative experience of divorce. . It is a strong, viable option for those who want to resolve couple conflicts during a time of heightened emotionality.

George Demont Otis        The Vista 2



1. Conner, C. A. and Anderson, M. L., Collaborative Practice Materials: A Resource Manual for Collaborative Professionals and Clients. p.61- 63. Conner, Lawrence, Rodney and Gurney, Attorneys at Law, 829 Sonoma Avenue, Suite One, Santa Rosa, California.


International Academy of Collaborative Professionals—The international umbrella organization of Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative Divorce Training Institute—Listing of all current local, state and national CD trainings

Alliance of Collaborative Professionals in the East Bay (Alameda County, San Francisco Bay Area)—Trained psychological professionals listed

Shendl Tuchman, Psy.D., a private practitioner in Berkeley and San Ramon, is a Collaborative Divorce Coach and Child Specialist also offering many divorce-related services as well as individual and couples therapy.

Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is in private practice in Pleasanton, California. He is a communication coach for divorcing spouses, and a child specialist in the Collaborative Divorce™ model since 2001. He also does couple therapy and presence-centered psychotherapy with adults and adolescents.

© 2009 By Shendl Tuchman, Psy.D. and Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.

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