Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Collaborative Divorce: A Conversation

kids with autism and Asperger's can be challenging, and this is
especially true for couples who are no longer married. In my last post, I
touched on some information regarding divorce rates, which indicated
that about 30%  of families with autistic children are divorced, and in
the majority of those families, the child is living with only one
parent. It's a concern that so many children are growing up without the
support of both parents and that many parents are trying to carry the
load on their own. One way to ease the burden of divorce and single
parenting on these families could be through the Collaborative Divorce

Today I'm interviewing JoAnn Rodrigues, MFT. JoAnn
Rodrigues is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in San Ramon,
California, as well as a Coach and Child Specialist for Collaborative
Divorce. You can read more about her work on her website,

Patricia Robinson: JoAnn, can you explain Collaborative Divorce?

Rodrigues: Collaborative Divorce is an alternative to a traditionally
litigated divorce. The process came about as a desire to help families
navigate a difficult and often devastating event without adding more
trauma. In this non-adversarial approach the couple agrees never to go
to court. The family has a team of professionals: two attorneys, two
coaches, a child specialist and a financial specialist who have all
been trained to help the family reach a settlement that takes into
account the emotional and financial needs of all the family members.
The goals are to improve communication and co-parenting so that the
family can reach a lasting settlement that preserves relationships
rather than destroying them.

In collaborative practice the
control over the process lies with the couple as opposed to the court.
This leads to more creativity and flexibility in all aspects of the
settlement including parenting plans. This is especially important for
families with special needs children as having that flexibility can
greatly benefit their children.

Patricia Robinson: What do you see as some of the advantages to using this process?

Rodrigues: The benefits to the family are evidenced in a reduced level
of conflict, improved communication, co-parenting skills, and a better
adjustment for the children. Since everyone's needs are taken into
account no one leaves the process feeling like they got the short end
of the stick, which only leads to continued resentment and sabotage. As
therapists we are often faced with the results of a "bad divorce" where
the fighting never ends. No one benefits when that happens.

financial cost when the fighting never ends can be enormous. In the
collaborative process the couple has a greater initial output of money
(retainers for the team members) but can save money in the long run by
actively working in the team meetings to reach lasting agreements.

Patricia Robinson: Can you explain your role in the Collaborative Divorce process?

Rodrigues: I have two separate roles in the collaborative process, one
as a coach and one as a child specialist. I would act in only one role
in each case. In my role as a coach I meet individually and in team
meetings with one of the spouses. My task is to help that person
identify their needs and goals as well their strengths and concerns to
help support them through the process. It is different from therapy
because I do not go into depth about their issues but instead help
guide them and teach them skills when their issues are getting in the
way of helping them achieve their goals. I do the same in the team
meetings by monitoring the emotions and helping to keep the process on
track. I also assist in developing a parenting plan based on the
information received from the child specialist.

As a child
specialist I am basically making sure that the child's voice is being
heard.  I am assessing the child or children's adjustment to the
divorce. I am looking at what they need developmentally and what is
helping and what is causing distress. I am a neutral person in the
process sharing the information I have gained with the parents and the

Patricia Robinson: How do couples find a collaborative divorce team?
JoAnn Rodrigues: They can go to our local website,
and click on team members. They can contact any member such as myself
and that person will meet with them and make suggestions for the other
team members based on their needs. For people reading this outside the
Bay Area they can go to the international collaborative website at

Patricia Robinson: Thanks JoAnn! I'm sure my readers will find this information helpful.

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