Collaborative Family Law: Working with a Family Relations Professional in Your Separation
Collaborative practice offers an alternative for separating spouses who want to avoid the conflict and cost of litigation in their separation. In this earlier blog, we described what makes the Collaborative practice different from other alternative dispute resolution options, such as mediation. One of the distinguishing factors in the Collaborative practice is the use of the “team” approach in which other professionals, in addition to the lawyers, are part of a team helping the spouses to resolve the matters of the separation. In this blog, we will focus on the use of Family Relations Professionals within the Collaborative process and how a Family Relations Professional might assist you in your Collaborative separation and divorce.
A Family Relations Professional will typically be a social worker or psychologist. Family Relations Professionals who participate in Collaborative practice are trained in the Collaborative approach, just like the lawyers who practice Collaborative Family Law must have specific collaborative training. Any professional who practices in a Collaborative family law file must have the required training.
What is the role of the Family Relations Professional in the Collaborative process? The Family Relations Professional is a neutral professional who assists each spouse with managing the emotional aspect of the separation, helps the parties overcome hurdles and impasses that may arise during the negotiations and works with them to reach a Parenting Agreement.
At the outset of the process, the Family Relations Professional will meet with each spouse individually to learn more about each spouse’s perspective, emotions and concerns about the separation. Throughout the process, the Family Relations Professional will attend meetings between the spouses and lawyers. The Family Relations Professional will facilitate respectful communication between all participants, including the other professionals involved such as the lawyers, and will help to ensure the Collaborative process remains on track. The Family Relations Professional will manage the emotions of the parties during discussions, helping to keep each person focussed on moving forward while acknowledging the stress and toll a separation can take. While the Family Relations Professional does not provide counselling to the spouses, upon request, a Family Relations Professional can make a referral to additional services that might be required for one or both of the spouses or their children.
The Family Relations Professional will also work with the parties to negotiate a Parenting Agreement that is child focussed. During a separation, trust between separating spouses may be minimal or non-existent. By recognizing this and by working with the parties to build trust (rather than allowing trust to further erode, as may happen in the litigation process), the spouses will be in a better position to communicate in a healthy manner, as co-parents of their children.
While a Family Relations Professional is not used in every Collaborative separation, separating spouses should give serious consideration to working with one. Anyone who has been through a separation understands that the legal issues are but one aspect of a separation. A Family Relations Professional will provide the support necessary to resolve those legal issues without increasing tension, stress and mistrust.