On a Collaborative Divorce team, usually the first professionals that will be hired are the collaborative lawyers, and each of you has your own separate lawyer representing you. I represent only my client, and the other collaborative lawyer represents only his or her client. But we’re committed to working together in a collegial way that pulls in the same direction of solving problems rather than bumping heads. So the lawyers are on board.
The other collaborative professionals on the team would be interdisciplinary Collaborative Divorce coaches, who are licensed mental-health professionals with a lot of experience in the old way of doing divorce (the head-bumping way, the gladiatorial way), and they’ve chosen to do this work because they know it’s better for children and families. The coaching process involves each partner — you and your spouse having your own coach who helps you to have the conversations that need to be had, so that you can then focus on issues and issues resolutions at the legal table. In addition, there is a child specialist if you have children who is going to be the voice of your child or children in the collaborative process and also a wise counselor to your children, to answer the questions they have that they never want to ask their parents. And every child has those questions.
Finally, we have a financial consultant. The financial consultant is a neutral whose job is to help marshal information about what’s there in terms of money: income, assets, and also debts and expenses. And the financial professional then, later on downstream, can help us project the financial consequences of any settlement scenario we might be considering so we know if it’s going to work, not just today, but 15 or 20 years down the road. Not every couple has all these team members helping them, and not every community has the trained professional resources to provide this kind of fully staffed team, but this configuration has proved particularly powerful and effective in helping couples really resolve divorce-related conflict in a lasting and creative way.
Pauline H. Tesler is a Certified Family Law Specialist with Tesler, Sandmann & Fishman in San Francisco and Mill Valley, CA. She is also a pioneer in Collaborative Divorce and devotes her practice exclusively to the collaborative model. Tesler is a co-founder of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the author of two books on Collaborative Divorce. She can be reached at (415) 383-5671.