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Mar 23, 2016BY: Roxane Polak
IN: Conduct and Communications, Emotions and the Family Specialist

Collaborative Divorce Communications Q&A

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string telephone vectorQ: How can I ensure that my spouse doesn’t verbally insult or abuse me in the Collaborative Divorce team meetings?

A: Your Collaborative Divorce team will include a mental health professional, referred to as a Neutral Family Specialist (“NFS”), who is specially trained to help spouses agree and adhere to explicit rules of collaborative conduct.  Your NFS will remind you both to use “I” terms to describe your feelings instead of blaming each other.  When necessary, the NFS will stop the meeting and talk to each of you separately to calm and neutralize any intense emotional reactions.  Finally, the NFS will model a more constructive style of communication, and help you learn to speak that way to each other and to your children.

Q: What style of communication is most effective in these meetings?

A: The Neutral Family Specialist is trained to listen and respond empathically, so you and your spouse each feel fully heard and understood in a safe and accepting environment.  Emphasis is placed on each individual’s interests and needs. Underlying assumptions about each other are explained in detail and explored, and alternative viewpoints are then suggested. The communications emphasis stays focused on your future instead of your past. The NFS will ask questions to help clarify confusing or contradictory statements in light of each spouse’s stated goals and priorities.

Q: How is this approach different from going to couple’s therapy?

A: In therapy, the psychologist focuses on assessment and treats symptoms, discussing the past and its implications for the present and future.  In contrast, the role of the Neutral Family Specialist in a Collaborative Divorce is to help the couple focus on the future to make a successful transition to a post-divorce family. The NFS does not make a diagnosis or treat your psychological conditions.

Q: Why do we need the Neutral Family Specialist? Why can’t my lawyer help with divorce communication?

A: The specialized training of the NFS mental health professional guides your interactions with your spouse. This is not predicated on giving advice or stating opinions, and is not informed by knowledge of the law.  When appropriate, the NFS will tell you both about relevant research on divorce and child development in order to help you make informed decisions about your family. The NFS will also help your lawyers better understand your perspectives so they can communicate collaboratively within the team.  Finally, the presence of just one NFS in the team meetings changes the dynamic of the meetings. Instead of just you and your lawyer sitting opposite your spouse and their lawyer, there is a fifth person at the table: the NFS.  They help the flow of conversation remain open and always focused on reaching mutually agreed-upon goals.

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