Where Are the Child Specialists on Our Collaborative Divorce Teams? The Case for Value Added

by: Carol R. Hughes Ph.D., LMFT, author of Home Will Never Be The Same Again

Collaborative Divorce is a family-focused process, so why are Child Specialists (CS) so often missing from collaborative divorce teams? Many collaborative professionals fail to understand the unique power of the CS and so overlook a significant team asset by not including this important professional.

Often, the most emotionally charged concerns for parents going through divorce are the issues regarding their children. The Child Specialist can be the most effective agent for change on the team when the role is filled by a well-trained, skillful Mental Health Professional (MHP), who has expertise with children and parents experiencing divorce. This is especially so with high conflict couples. And yet, so many professional teams are formed without a Child Specialist. 

Below some of my colleagues share their experiences: 

“I have worked with a number of Child Specialists, each one bringing a variety of tools for family focus into the process. Beyond the traditional role of bringing the child’s (minors, adults, and grandchildren) voice into the process, thereby reminding the parents of their impact and their potential, an effective Child Specialist is also ever present in the room when financial and legal concerns and topics are being addressed. Typically, the child specialist is the one professional both parents trust and want to hear from in a collaborative process. When the financial specialist and/or the lawyers are discussing technical information, I have experienced the Child Specialist doing a critical ‘check in’ with the parents, thereby disrupting the discussion to acknowledge an important shift, usually a potentially harmful shift, in one or both parent’s body language, tone, or other behavior. Divorce coaches are also ever present at this time, so this is not to discount their critical role. The Child Specialist, however, brings a reality from within the family, rather than within the parent. The Child Specialist, as such, I have found, to be critical, especially when no other voice, except for the children’s can be heard.” 

“I have been practicing as a financial specialist in family law matters for the last 20 years, the past 16 years as a Collaborative Financial Neutral. I have experienced working with clients getting divorced in the litigation process, mediation, hybrid collaborative, and the full team collaborative process.

In all cases that have utilized the Child Specialist the decision-making process of the parties seems to work better. It is rare that either the father or the mother does not want to put their child first. Even when they are arguing with each other, if the focus can get them back to their child(ren), they have an ability to make decisions for the betterment of the family.

The Child Specialist brings that child into the room with the parents and helps keep the parents focused on why they chose the collaborative divorce process in the first place. When the Child Specialist steps in as the voice of the child(ren), I have personally witnessed parents about ready to end the entire collaborative process and go to litigation sit back – stop-listen-think — and then come back into the process for the best results of the family going into the future.”

  • Cathleen Collinsworth, CDFA™, MAFF™ Neutral Financial Specialist and Trainer www.cccdfa.com

“As one of the lawyers on the team I view the Child Specialist as uniquely situated to center the clients on consensus building. Children, both adult and minor, are ever present during their parents’ divorce. Children are a significant part of the family dynamic and not always in the most supportive, functional way. Children, both minor and adult, are stake holders and major influences “in the room” whenever the parents meet.  While the Child Specialist is not a true neutral, being aligned with the children of the clients, being impartial in relation to the parents powerfully amplifies the voice of the child(ren). I have never met a client who did not want to do what is best for their child(ren).  Presenting as a co-equal team member, parents work directly with the Child Specialist as the voice of the child(ren). This discourages them looking to me as decision maker, as lawyer, and puts the responsibility on them as parents and empowers parents to focus on children’s needs and interests. It values parents’ role as parents keeping control of the parenting decisions, brings the kids “into the room,” while being afforded valuable information and guidance. The voice of the child(ren) puts parents [back] on common ground and focused on meeting the needs and interests of someone other than themselves.”

  • Bart Carey, J.D. Collaborative Family Lawyer, Mediator, Adjunct Law School Professor, and Trainer www.familypeacemaker.com

When we trained to become collaborative professionals, we learned the term “paradigm shift.” I hope the above helps you “feel” the paradigm shift about the value of the Child Specialist on our collaborative teams.

To learn more about the value of the Child Specialist, attend the workshop “The Overlooked Value of the Child Specialist as a Family-Focused Facilitator om Collaborative Meetings” that several of my collaborative colleagues and I are presenting on October 29 at the IACP Networking and Education Forum:  https://www.collaborativepractice.com/iacp-forum.

About Carol Hughes

Carol Hughes, Ph.D., LMFT, works with divorcing clients as a Collaborative professional to alleviate current as well as future trauma via healing and empowerment. Carol has extensive training and experience with the Collaborative Divorce method and many issues divorcing couples face including trauma recovery, chemical dependency, and domestic violence.
Carol’s Profile | Carol’s Website

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