Divorce Coaches: Providing Support for Attorneys and Their Clients

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During the very difficult process of divorce, coaching from a qualified professional can provide support and problem solving assistance to successfully augment legal representation. Attorneys practicing matrimonial law often complain that they spend a lot of time “handholding” their clients, which can distract the attorney from the primary functions of investigating and valuing assets and income, and preparing the financial case for negotiation or litigation. While an attorney’s training prepares him or her for conducting discovery, motion practice, negotiation and trial skills, there is little training in working with people who are undergoing a grief process and dealing with significant life changes, such as returning to the job market or child rearing as a single parent. While a person getting divorced certainly needs the skills of a highly trained attorney in navigating the court system, he or she may also need help with parenting concerns and panic over changing financial and life circumstances. A divorce coach can provide much needed assistance to the client, freeing the attorney to focus on the legal aspects of the divorce.

Not Every Client Needs a Therapist

Historically, matrimonial attorneys have referred clients with these issues to mental health professionals for counseling. However, while many people in the early stages of a divorce are distraught and under great stress, their distress is often situational and does not rise to the level of a psychological disorder. These individuals may not need the skills of a highly trained therapist. Rather, they would greatly benefit from the assistance of a trained professional to help them organize, prioritize and set goals. A divorce coach is trained to help people maximize their strengths, and develop new strengths and skills to cope with the significant life changes divorce often brings.

The Divorce Coaching Approach

“For most, divorce is a cauldron of emotion – the felt sense of a loss of a dream, the threat of an uncertain future, and the loss of an identity. Yet, it is also a new beginning, with promise and opportunity. The challenge is to own your feelings and navigate toward a positive outcome,” says Dennis Coyne, a highly experienced divorce coach with a practice in the Twin Cities. Coyne suggests those going through a divorce ask themselves:

• Who are my allies who will listen with care and compassion, having my best interests at heart?

• How can I best care for myself? Who and what brings me solace and joy? For some, its jogging, music, reading, poetry, or prayer.

• Reflecting on past experiences, what lessons have I learned that can help me now? How did I get through the last hard time? What was helpful for me and what was not?

• Who can I be with unconditionally, without the need to tidy-up or explain myself, especially at a time when I have so many questions and so few answers?

A qualified divorce coach can help clients navigate the transition at hand, enabling them to leverage their strengths while being mindful of the inevitable challenges and pitfalls of their unique situation. For example, in many traditional households, one parent is often the administrative parent, scheduling medical appointments, signing the children up for activities and managing school work. Once a divorce has been filed, the parties are usually expected to co-parent and share these responsibilities. Communication about the children’s activities no longer happens through notes left on the refrigerator and the administrative parent can have difficulty both in giving up control and in developing a positive method of communication with the other parent. A skilled coach can work with the administrative parent to help him or her develop and implement an appropriate plan of action.

The Financial Impact of Divorce

One of the more challenging aspects of divorce is helping parties understand that the family income that provided a comfortable lifestyle in one home cannot possibly stretch to cover the demands of maintaining two households during and after the divorce. A divorce coach can help evaluate the choices that have to be made including reducing expenses, a spouse returning to the workforce, or making more financially reasonable choices. Some people just need a sympathetic ear as they work through a major life transition.

Credentials Matter

A qualified divorce coach should be trained and certified. While a professional coach can help with most issues, when seeking assistance with a divorce, clients or counsel should look for a coach who has experience in divorce, or in a specific area that needs to be addressed, such as finances, career counseling or parenting assistance. The coach should be willing to share his or her training and experience and to provide references. Clients can expect the coach to help with goal setting and to establish accountability.

Divorce coaching fees are usually lower than an attorney’s hourly rate and the coach may be more available to deal with the practical issues arising in a divorce. A good divorce coach can be a valuable complement to a matrimonial attorney, forming a team that the client can rely on to manage the major life experience of a divorce.

Kathleen M. Newman

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