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Nov 1, 2015BY: Roxane Polak
IN: Children and Parenting Issues, The Collaborative Team, What is Collaborative Divorce?

The Role of the Child Specialist in a Collaborative Divorce: Hearing the Voice of the Children

The parents of Amy* (age 14) and Nick* (age 10) are using the Collaborative Divorce process. Putting a Child Specialist on the collaborative team was suggested because of the parents’ disagreement over Amy’s and Nick’s needs.

Mom thought Dad was too indulgent and not attentive enough to safety. She insisted on meeting all of Amy’s friends’ parents. In contrast, Dad thought Mom was too rigid and overprotective. Also, Amy has learning disabilities. The parents disagreed on how hard to push her to read and how closely to supervise her schoolwork.

After meeting once with the parents and then separately with each child, the Specialist gave the parents and team feedback on how Amy and Nick were coping with the impending family break-up.

The children were distressed by hearing their parents argue frequently at home during the last year. After learning from the Child Specialist that the children could hear them arguing, the parents agreed not to fight when the children were home.

Amy’s way of dealing with the divorce was to spend a lot of time with her peers, visiting unsupervised homes where teens drank vodka out of water bottles. Nick handled his unhappiness by being very quiet, sometimes covering his ears with his hands to block out his parents’ arguing. He also complained of frequent stomach aches and headaches, which the Specialist recognized as an attempt to manipulate his parents into going together to the doctor’s office out of concern for his health.

The Child Specialist spoke to the parents about Amy and Nick’s personalities, developmental stages, and issues. Suggestions were made to address each parent’s concerns, while taking into account each child’s needs.

Dad concurred that Amy needed more supervision and help fostering a healthy sense of identity and independence. Mom, seeing how her solicitousness of Nick’s vague physical complaints was inadvertently rewarding him for feigning illness, began to pay attention to Nick’s accomplishments. Both parents discussed how to address Nick’s hopes that they would reconcile.

In a Collaborative Divorce, the Child Specialist’s role is to give the children a voice, make suggestions in conjunction with the parents’ values and goals, and help the entire family function better during and after the break-up. The Specialist will help parents recognize how certain of their own behaviors affect their children’s behavior and make specific recommendations to help alter their behaviors as needed.

The parents need to be open to hearing how other viewpoints are valid. Often, parents need to changes their habitual styles of relating to their children once they agree on what is best for the children. Research and information are provided to help the parents make this shift, and other professions – including physicians and school officials – can be consulted whenever necessary.

It is important to know that the Child Specialist does not take sides, but rather offers information, helping the family to understand how different parenting styles may reflect and impact the needs of the children — even those needs the children will not or cannot directly express to their parents.

*Names and certain details were changed to protect privacy.

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