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Law and Social Work
Family Law offers divorcing couples a new approach to untangling marriage.
The traditional approach has family lawyers settle disputes with at least
the threat of litigation. Collaborative Family Law takes the threat of
litigation out of the equation to concentrate on helping the parties
settle between themselves yet with legal support. Litigation is not an
option. Lawyers practicing Collaborative Family Law report more
satisfaction with this form of practice and believe that negotiated
settlements leave the parties more intact as individuals and as parents.
with the new approach to settling disputes, there is a new role for those
professionals who would otherwise practice divorce mediation or provide
custody and access assessments.
professionals, often social workers and psychologists, are being
reenlisted by Collaborative Lawyers as Divorce Coaches and Child
traditional family law a Divorce Coach may be hired to prepare one parent
for court in order to gain a strategic advantage in the litigation
process. In the Collaborative Law context, the Divorce Coach helps the
parent to understand emotional issues that could cause him or her to be
unreasonable. In other words, in the former context the coach helps make a
better warrior for the battle of litigation, while in the latter context
the coach helps make a better conciliator to facilitate settlement. Within
the Collaborative Law model each parent has his or her own Divorce Coach.
“Child Specialist” is generally described in therapeutic terms,
working with the children directly. In this context, the Child Specialist
meets with the children to help them deal with the impact of the
parents’ divorce on their lives. The Child Specialist may also share
information with parents to help them protect the children from untoward
can be challenges arising when using individual Divorce Coaches and Child
Specialists as described. Each coach may provide perspectives or
information to their respective client that pulls them in different
directions, confounding settlement. Certainly “over-identification”
with one’s client is a risk inherent in any form of individual support.
Further, when a Child Specialist meets alone with children, there can be
conflicts of interest and confidentiality issues if the Child Specialist
then reports to parents. Some jurisdictions have confidentiality rules for
counsellors working with children, particularly early adolescents.
are ways to mitigate these issues. Social
workers have a rich tradition in working with entire families. As such,
the social worker can engage the entire family in a consultant role.
Within this role, perhaps titled Family Divorce Consultant, one social
worker would be assigned, rather than two coaches. Working from a
system’s theory perspective and using clinical discretion, the social
worker would have latitude to meet with the entire family system and/or
pertinent subsystems (marital, sibling, parent-child and even individuals)
Family Divorce Consultant’s involvement would be time limited and goal
directed. The goal is to facilitate transition to a new family structure
(pre-divorce to post divorce) whilst maintaining the integrity of
pertinent relationships. Further, the consultant would provide education
to the parents to facilitate their mutual interest – the well-being of
their children now and developmentally.
Work has much to offer Collaborative Family Law. Social Work is built on a
tradition of inter-disciplinary teamwork with the goal of win/win
outcomes. The structural changes sought to facilitate post-divorce
adjustment meet well with the training and values of social workers.
Collaborative lawyers and social workers make a natural team.
Collaborative lawyers looking for social workers should consider those with; a “systems” perspective; custody and access experience; current knowledge of relevant theory and practice of divorce and child development; and good inter-personal boundaries. Collaborative Law marks a revolution in thinking. Next will be interesting to view the evolution. Social work is a good fit.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
20 Suter Crescent, Dundas, ON, Canada L9H 6R5 Tel: (905) 628-4847 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org