Children Win in Collaborative Divorce: The Role of the Child Specialist

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    As a society and individually as parents we all want children to reach their highest potential. But they need good “growing ground” in order to do so. The costly negative short-term and long-term effect of divorce on children has long been researched. Although many court districts mandate for divorcing couples with children to take a parenting-divorce course, the varied psychosocial and emotional needs of children are often missed. Consider the following case narrative:

      In a session with a child of divorcing parents, the Child Specialist asks the child to, “Draw a picture of you and your family doing something together.” Sitting slumped over at a children’s desk the child draws with colored markers a ping pong table. On one side of the table, holding a paddle in hand is a female figure (“the mother”), on the other side, also holding a paddle is a male figure (“the father”). The faces of the figures look angry and contorted. In the middle of the table is a ball. “Where are you in this drawing?” asks the Child Specialist. The child responds, “Oh, I am the ball in the middle.” The Specialist then asks, “If that ball could speak, what would it be saying?” The child states, “Stop hurting me.”

    In the above example, in a neutral environment, the child is able to express for the first time how he is really feeling. Caught in the conflict between his parents, he does not honestly share with either of his parents his true state of suffering.  The parents, although very well educated, caring and nurturing parents to their child, are both so preoccupied in their own complicated emotional turmoil, that they are unable to fully recognize the extent of their son’s emotional hurt. The child, loyal to both of his parents does not want to choose between his mother and father who are both battling over custody and other affairs.  As each parent separately seeks advice from his or her individual attorney, the crucial needs of the child become further and further overlooked.

    Collaborative Divorce offers divorcing parents an alternative course of action that eliminates the need for litigation—a legal process that is very expensive—emotionally, physically, socially, financially and spiritually. Untangling interwoven lives is extremely difficult.  When children are involved the painful separation is even more complicated.  In Collaborative Divorce a team of trained professionals work together to help divorcing couples navigate the divorce process by means of agreed contracting. Most importantly divorcing couples and their attorneys sign a contract agreeing to settle matters “at-the-table”—so to speak—thus alleviating the option of litigation. The attorneys agree to resign from the case if the parties are not able to work through their differences—a rare problem in Collaborative Divorce. The team is made up of Family Law Attorneys, Financial Specialists, Mental Health Specialists and a Child Specialist. Each professional has a defined role within the process. In regards to the Child Specialist, his or her role is to advocate for the “voice” of the child.

    The Child Specialist’s unique role is to gain the perspective of each child in the family while also providing a safe haven for children to express themselves. The Child Specialist also listens to the parent’s hopes and dreams for their children’s future. From the perspective of both parents their children’s highest good is put forth and examined. In this light the divorce experience is thus reframed and parents can begin to make decisions with their children’s best interests as a foundation.  The Child Specialist works collaboratively with the other team members to help make recommendations and advocate on the children’s behalf. In this way the children’s voice is heard and represented.

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