Dr. Judith D. Bertoia, Registered Psychologist, Registered Play Therapist - Supervisor

Collaborative Separation and Divorce

Collaborative separation and divorce is a new multi-disciplinary process that grew out of the concerns of many professionals involved with the divorce process. Lawyers, therapists and others recognized the impact the adversarial process has on members of a family. They worked together to create a model that encourages dialogue, respect, integrity, and the best interest of family members over the long term.

This model involves a team of professionals which can include lawyers, mental health professionals (referred to as coaches), a financial specialist, and a child specialist. Which of these professionals and the degree to which they are actually involved in a specific situation depends on the unique needs and circumstance of the family. All involved parties sign an agreement that allows the team to work together collaboratively. Although there may be more people involved initially than in a traditional adversarial process, there is also a focus on effective communication which reduces the overall length and cost of the process as well as the emotional distress experienced by the family both during the process and over the long term.

Either spouse can begin the process through contacting a collaborative lawyer or a mental health professional trained in the process. For some couples, the communication skills and goals targeted in their time with the coaches helps them realize their separation was unintentionally a way to facilitate changes in the marriage and a reconciliation is what they truly desire. For most couples, the process will progress towards a permanent separation and divorce. As with most endings, this process can be emotionally difficult. It requires a commitment to entering into a dialogue and a willingness to focus on the future. It involves honesty, empathy, listening, expression of hopes and fears, and sometimes an openness to creative problem solving. In the collaborative process we work towards designing what will work for the parties in the future, taking into account present considerations.

When children are involved, the collaborative process gives them a voice through a supportive but specialized third party. This process also provides the opportunity to develop a parenting plan, with a defined schedule to consider revisions as the children mature. Parents will continue to co-parent into the future; the ability to communicate appropriately has proven to be a critical factor in how well children adjust to the new family structure. The collaborative process provides opportunities to learn more effective communication patterns with the other parent.

My role as a collaborative coach is to provide emotional support, teach communication skills, discuss parenting concerns, and help ensure that needs, concerns, and feelings are understood and contained. As a collaborative coach I also provide very specific education both for telling the children about changes in the family and for developing co-parenting techniques.

My role as a child specialist focuses on your children's needs in the separation process. With specialized training in child development and expertise related to children of divorce, I work as an independent advocate for children, providing each child with a safe place to share their feelings and express their needs. As a child specialist I work to ensure that the emotional needs and concerns of each child are being considered by both parents and all members of the team.

To become a collaborative coach or child specialist, mental health professionals must have completed all required training for their degree, either a masters or doctorate, plus any additional exams and credentials for their governing college or association. They are then required to train specifically in the collaborative process and family mediation.

For detailed information about collaborative separation and divorce visit www.collaborativedivorcebc.org

The answers lie within. The challenge is listening to their wisdom and then creating change.

Forgiveness heals and empowers the one who forgives.
— David McArthur

Healing proceeds from the depths to the heights.
— C. G. Jung

Part of life's happiness consists not in fighting the battles, but in avoiding them. A masterly retreat is, in itself, a victory.
— Norman Vincent Peale