Why use a Family Consultant?
April 7, 2017 by Sue McArthur
Family Consultant in Collaborative Practice
As a Family Consultant I have been involved in over a dozen collaborative cases over the last couple of years where separating couples have decided to use the collaborative process and avoid going through court. There seem to be many advantages to this, not least retaining control of the decision making process and coming to a point where an understanding is reached about how to co-parent post-divorce.
As a Family Consultant, I work with the couple’s lawyers as part of a team, to facilitate meetings and manage tensions and dynamics. My involvement enables progress to be made where it may otherwise have stalled. This can best be illustrated by giving some anonymised examples.
The couple seemed unable to resolve their differences and both were adamant that they were standing their ground in the interests of their child. It was difficult for the lawyers to name “the elephant in the room” without alienating the other client and making a difficult situation worse.
As a non-legal neutral I was able to ask the “stupid” questions which quickly revealed the sticking points on both sides to be positional and driven by their own worries and concerns, rather than those of their child. Using humour and challenge, I enabled the couple to reach a point where they could acknowledge their own interests as well as those of others concerned. This was the basis for a mutually acceptable settlement.
What a great outcome and sound basis to move forward for something that could have ended up in court, and been potentially far more costly both financially and emotionally.
My involvement in this case was from the outset. Whilst both people wanted to stay out of court there was a high level of longstanding animosity, tension and mistrust. The potential to be drawn into their power and control dynamics was significant. I decided to keep the discussions about co-parenting arrangements separate from those concerning finances – I have found this to be a helpful way of working in a number of cases. After much negotiation and soul searching, and at times tough talking, agreement was reached on finances.
I then met with the couple without lawyers present to facilitate a discussion about arrangements for their children. Initially it was a very tense atmosphere with both of them wanting things their own way – they were stuck in their own ‘positions’, and this is commonly the case when couples have separated. When I made clear to them that I was there to facilitate, and not decide or pass judgement, the positioning stopped. They were then able to communicate more effectively to plan out the time that the children would spend with each of them. I am sure this was helpful for the whole family. The parents had an experience of how resolve difficulties and co-parent effectively. By doing so they could demonstrate to their children a respectful and co-operative relationship, thereby giving their children a greater sense of security.
By working with a Family Consultant alongside their lawyers in the collaborative process, separating couples can access appropriate support to manage the tensions in their relationship, and work out an effective solution, putting the interests of their children first. The feedback I have had, both from couples and their lawyers, is that having me involved as a Family Consultant has made a real difference in helping them to achieve the best outcome for their family.