Divorce: 80% Emotion, 20% Law

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at Jewish Family Service to a group of mental health professionals about the collaborative divorce process.

Eleven people gathered with me on a cold and sunny February morning to discuss the legal and emotional effects of divorce. The room remained quiet, save for the scribbles of pens and pencils on paper, as my audience absorbed the material I presented, everything from complicated laws to explaining collaborative divorce (I prefer to be comprehensive!).

It was an attentive, interactive audience, happy to ask loads of questions.

Having a mental health professional in the collaborative divorce process is great for both parties. It wasn’t always the case to have someone trained in mental health on a collaborative divorce team, but I’ve found that it exponentially speeds up the process.

They may act as a child specialist, providing a voice for the needs of the children when custody issues occur. They help manage stress and other emotions that arise in the divorcing parties. And they direct the parties to seek mental health help or therapy outside of the collaborative process.

Divorce is 80% emotion and 20% law, I told my audience, hence the benefit of mental health professionals on the team.

Attorneys can’t be jacks-of-all-trades. That’s why the collaborative process works so well —attorneys help their parties work out legal issues, while a financial expert sorts out money quandaries and mental health professionals focus on familial and emotional issues.

We build a great team, that looks out for every nuance in the process, with a communal goal of healthy outcomes for all involved.

My JFS presentation focused on educating mental health professionals about collaborative divorce and answering questions about guiding clients through divorce. I always stress the misconception that divorce is bitter and acrimonious.

Collaborative divorce is a more harmonious and respectful way to dissolve a marriage, and usually better for everyone involved.

The inquisitive group had lots of questions I was happy to answer, like …

What is the best way to divorce if one of the parties is suspected of domestic abuse?

If one spouse is suspected of being abusive, collaborative divorce probably isn’t the best option. Collaboration requires respect and transparency—which abusers don’t provide. The best way to dissolve an abusive marriage is through litigation.

Can you write off diapers as child support?

Child support is determined according to the Michigan Child Support Formula (MCSF), based on the number of overnights each parent has with the children, and the parties’ respective incomes.

Divorced parents can deviate from the Formula for a number of reasons, including if one provides some “in-kind” support. So, they could agree that the amount of child support is less than the MCSF because the payer of support provides necessary items such as diapers, but there wouldn’t be a retroactive credit for doing so.

(There are cases where a baby-daddy argues that he wasn’t paying child support but he provided diapers and formula and wants credit for it. It doesn’t happen retroactively. It has to be a mutual agreement and apply to what comes next.)

How do we support clients in the courtroom?

Advise them to keep emotions in check. Whatever the judge rules, advise them to remain expressionless. If a client becomes too emotional, a judge can reverse a ruling—and rule against them. It’s important to remain professional throughout the process, in manner, dress and speech.

At this presentation, we discussed everything from the complicated formula for child support to how to advise divorcing spouses on appropriate dress for the courtroom (yes, that is important).

Thank you to Jewish Family Service for inviting me to speak!

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