Collaborative Divorce and Children

Three young girls sitting on the grass looking at their phones.

Law schools and the profession have added emphasis on “Alternative Dispute Resolutionâ€. This means ways to settle your dispute or conflict without going to trial. Collaborative practice is one such alternative to having to go to trial.

In my work as an attorney, I’ve had the opportunity to work with children as an attorney for children and as a “Court Advisor†who interviews children and families and reports to the Court. I’ve learned that children are very disturbed by their parents’ conflict. They hear too much about the legal matters and are influenced by parents’ actions, even when the parents do not intend such influence. Children can feel sorry for one parent, or angry, or worried. Children will try to overhear their parents talking about the divorce even when the parents are unaware they are listening. Parents can even try to influence the children by giving presents or rewards. Children often feel that they want to be heard, but their “decisions†may be based on things other than what may be in their best interest.

In a traditional court matter, the parents can hire a custodial evaluator, usually at great expense, to conduct an evaluation and prepare a report and even testify at court. This provides the judge with good information gathered by a neutral professional. One of the best components of the Collaborative practice is the Child Specialist. The cost is very modest and a professional with great experience is able to meet with the children (usually once with each parent) and hear from the children, parents and can even talk to other important people in the child’s life (such as a therapist). Because Collaborative practice is open and honest, the child specialist has access to information to enable him or her to conduct a brief investigation and as a neutral specialist, provide suggestions for crafting a custody and parenting time plan that is in the children’s best interest. The children feel heard, but not responsible for making the decision. Parents can feel as if the child’s needs were assessed by a professional and the best parenting time plan can be put in place. Even after the case is resolved, the child specialist can be available to help the parents review the custody/parenting arrangement with an eye to changes that may be in the best interest of the children as circumstances change.

Often the parents can resolve the parenting issues with the help of their coach (a mental health professional trained to help the parents through the changing relationships) and the Child Specialist and save attorney fees in resolving this piece of the divorce. The Collaborative team can help keep your children out of the middle of this emotional experience and assist you in transitioning to your new relationship with your spouse.

Alyce Pennington

Tucson Collaborative Divorce Attorney