August 27, 2012

Mental Health Professionals in a Divorce

Today, more than ever, the preferred trend in domestic relations cases is to strive toward a settlement agreement, as opposed to resolution through litigation. Many judges and family law experts have concluded that traditional litigation is not the ideal paradigm for resolving family matters. Rather, an outcome reached through negotiation is often better outcome for the parties, as it tends to foster an environment of collaboration and teamwork rather than acrimony and competition between the former partners. It also a preferred outcome for the courts as well, as cases resolved by settlement are less likely to return before the court repeatedly.Mental Health and Divorce

It is this philosophy that has helped bring about the rise of what’s called “collaborative divorce,” a process in which the parties and their counsel pledge to make every reasonable effort to resolve the case through settlement. One person who can prove to be a key player in the collaborative divorce process is a mental health professional. Divorcing spouses will often be some the most highly stressed litigants to appear in a civil matter. Mental health professionals can be vital in helping the parties manage that stress, and their feelings about both their spouses and themselves. These professionals can also spot more serious issues that may impair the party’s ability to function, such as depression, and take steps to address those concerns.

Working Towards Acceptance, Cooperation

In some cases, one professional may be brought in to help both sides advance toward the goal of settlement. The professional serves as the “voice of reason,” helping to prevent the parties’ still-raw emotions, and arguments fueled by them, from derailing the group’s efforts of seeking out and reaching a fair and workable outcome for both sides. The mental health professional can be an invaluable asset when it comes to keeping the parties squarely focused on reaching a settlement and not slipping into rehashing the issues that caused the marriage to fall apart. In many divorces, one spouse has failed to come to terms with the end of the relationship and the reasons why the marriage failed. These unresolved feelings can impede the process of acceptance and slow down the process of agreement and conclusion of the divorce.

Mental Health Professional as “Divorce Coach”

In other cases, the parties and their counsel might retain multiple mental health professionals. Often the sides bring in two professionals, one for each spouse, to act as a “divorce coach.” Each coach helps his or her party to work through their own emotions about the divorce, thus aiding them in being in a rational, cooperative, collaborative and outcome-focused frame of mind when meeting with the other side. While mental health professionals generally focus on curative therapy or symptom treatment, a divorce coach’s job is narrower, focusing on helping the party manage the specific situations created by the divorce and helping them improve their skills of effective and constructive communication.

As divorce law and practice evolves, the value of negotiated settlements forged by the parties, as opposed to judicial edicts crafted as a result of contested litigation, is realized more and more. To help foster that collaborative process, mental health professionals are crucial.  For help determining if these professionals can help you finalize your divorce in our area, contact an experienced Jacksonville divorce lawyer for advice and assistance.


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