While I no longer serve as a Neutral Coach in Collaborative Divorce situations, and while this is not the only form of divorce you should check out if you are contemplating a separation, a Collaborative approach is intended to help the parties negotiate and work out what they need and want in the divorce and in life going forward.

Couples and Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative Divorce is a team effort in which a divorcing couple agrees to hire and work together with a team of Collaborative Divorce specialists, in order to settle the specifics of their divorce—typically living arrangements, finances, and care of children. They agree in writing, in a team meeting to never go to court. Instead they arrive at agreements and settle differences together. * They choose to approach divorce this way for the sake of their family well being, including long term emotional well-being.

Two Main Goals of Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative Divorce is focused on two main goals:

  • To help the couple arrive at mutually satisfying, win/win agreements that will sustain all family members as they move forward, and
  • To make an often devastating life transition more constructive and even healing for the entire family.

The Typical Collaborative Team

In Collaborative Divorce, the couple makes all their decisions together with the assistance of the experts they choose to hire. Because of this, the composition of teams may look slightly different depending on the particular couple and the specific agreements or settlements they wish to achieve. However, a typical team is often comprised of the following: In the Neutral Coach Model of Collaborative Divorce, there is one Neutral Coach who coordinates the meetings and ensures that they run smoothly and that all parties are focused on the two goals outlined above. ** Each member of the couple has their own Collaborative Attorney who is there to advise their client on legal issues and support the entire collaborative process. In addition, neutral Financial Experts and Mortgage/Real Estate Specialists, Parenting and Child Development Specialists are often brought into the team efforts.


If needed, a couple may also be encouraged to attend a Parenting Class – individually or together. Their children may be seeing a Child Therapist or they may be encouraged to help their children in this way.

Roles of Therapists in Collaborative Divorce

There are two main ways in which mental health therapists may play a role in supporting the divorcing individual or couple:

  • Referrals to Collaborative Attorneys: Sometimes couples are referred to Collaborative Divorce attorneys by an outside individual or couples therapist familiar with the Collaborative Divorce model. Some referring therapists may also be trained and serve as Neutral Coaches, but when they refer their own clients, they may not be a part of the Collaborative Divorce team.
  • Supportive Therapy for the Individual or Couple: There are many therapists who may never wish to serve on a Collaborative Team but whose work is compatible with the Collaborative Divorce process. These therapists may have been previously working with the individual or couple. Or, the team may refer to these therapists who then offer expertise that is specific to the individual needs, yet broader than the scope of the divorce settlement.

Why Refer to an Outside Therapist?

Since one of the main goals of Collaborative Divorce is healing, the team may advise that one or both members of a divorcing couple could benefit from the services of a therapist during this tough life transition. A therapist should be a highly trained and experienced mental health professional. A good therapist would have a deep understanding of relational issues, life transitions, stages of development and grief, and would be well versed in both individual and couple issues. Ideally they would be pro-healing the entire family.


Whether hired by the individual, the couple, or referred by the team, it is beneficial that the therapist understand the goals of the collaborative process and that their approach is consistent with the goals of the couple—goals to work together, to come to agreements together, and do it in a mutual and healing manner. The parties can sign an Authorization for Release of Confidential Information form allowing a team member – such as the Neutral Coach – to communicate for purposes of educating the therapist or updating them on the process if needed. If a compatible therapist works with an individual, it may be agreed, for example, that the Neutral Coach can communicate needs such as helping a party become less reactive and more strategic in difficult team meetings with their soon-to-be-ex-spouse.


Other Reasons to Refer to Therapists

The following is a list of other potential reasons a client might be referred to an outside therapist who can assist them in staying on goal—a divorce process and settlement that brings about healing for the individuals and family in question.


Uncoupling Therapy: This is typically 3 – 5 sessions with a couple’s therapist specialized in the mental, emotional, and psychological stages of grieving, coupling and uncoupling, and building a new life transitions. Some examples where uncoupling therapy may be helpful include situations where parties are stuck and unable to come to settlement for emotional/psychological reasons, where one member is going more slowly than another, or where forgiveness or acknowledgement of hurts is an issue. While a couple is undergoing Uncoupling Therapy, the team may take a break from team meetings while the emotional ramifications of divorce are dealt with directly. If therapy is successful, team meetings should go more smoothly and issues should be resolved more quickly when resumed.


Reconciliation Therapy: Sometimes a couple is stuck in the Collaborative Divorce process because one or both are—consciously or unconsciously—unsure or their decision to divorce. A team or Neutral Coach sensitive to this possibility may suggest that the couple see a therapist who specializes in reconciliation and marital therapy. Such therapy should help them resolve one of two directions: Either 1) they do wish to remain together and gain the tools they need to create a more successful relationship, or 2) they gain an understanding of why they are divorcing and face divorce with fewer regrets and less guilt, anger or shame. In most cases if they return to the collaborative process after enough reconciliation sessions (3 – 9 months suggested,) the process should go more smoothly because underlying issues have been faced.


Reunification Therapy: Where children and a parent have become disengaged during the marriage or divorce process, referral to therapists specializing in healing the hurts of such disengagement may be advised. Typically this involves consults with both parents followed by therapy with the child and then sessions with one or both parents and the child.


Therapy to Calm Explosiveness, Timidity, or Emotional Reactivity: If a Neutral Coach or Collaborative team feels the need for one or both divorcing parties to have outside coaching to deal with explosive behavior, timidity or emotional reactivity while in the presence of their spouse, therapy may be advised. Oftentimes this therapy may be brief therapy, similar to coaching, with the intent of helping the client through the stress of the Collaborative sessions. It may also segue into longer term healing if the client finds it useful.


*At any time, if either or both parties decide to discontinue the collaborative process they must hire new lawyers and the entire team effort is disbanded.

** It is also possible to have two Neutral Coaches involved with the divorcing couple each having a coach to guide and help them stay focused on their greater goals in the process. Involvement of outside therapists may be considered in either the one-coach or two-coach models to assist clients therapeutically.





Additional Resources

When You Feel Stuck—or Choose to Remain—In a Difficult Relationship With Someone Who Will Not or May Not Change

7 Tips When You Resent Being In the Lead With a Colleague, Employee or Mate

When Men Don’t Fully Engage, It Deprives the Women in Your Life of Growth

When You Are Ready—Reach Out for a Complimentary Call to Explore Your Needs here

Dr. Jan Hoistad