Divorce is one of the most stressful life events you will ever experience. Many of my clients are referred by mental health professionals. They generally come to my office having carefully considered their options and want to understand the legal aspects of divorce before they make a final decision regarding whether to leave their marriages. These folks have generally dealt with the emotional impact of divorce on their children, their spouse and themselves.
Many clients come to my office, not having worked with a therapist. There is a striking difference between the two groups. Those who have not worked with a therapist often carry their emotions very close to the surface, since they have not had a chance to really analyze the emotional impact the divorce will have on their families and themselves. I generally urge them to work with a therapist before they decide whether to divorce.
Why? Divorce is a legal process. However, more importantly, it is a highly emotional process. Every decision that you make regarding child custody, child support, property, spousal support or alimony and how conflicted the divorced will be is made through the filter of your emotions.
If your spouse has decided to divorce you and you feel powerless over the situation, you will filter your decision-making through a very different set of emotions than if you have made the decision to divorce. In either case, the process is going to be difficult and challenging at times.
So do yourself a favor and work with a professional who will help you navigate the range of emotions that you will feel during the divorce, as well as expert who will help you through the legal process.
A good lawyer can provide a lot of advice on a variety of topics. Most lawyers are not trained to deal with emotions effectively. Therapists are. Just as you wouldn't call an electrician to fix the leak below your sink, don't expect your lawyer to talk you through the tough, emotionally charged decisions that you will need to make.
Another very good reason to work with a therapist during divorce is it will save you money. Lawyers usually charge more than therapists. Many therapeutic services are covered by health insurance, leaving a small co-pay for you to pay. Our firm provides new clients with a letter on how to save money during our representation. Having a therapist is high on the list of tips.
Ideally, your spouse would benefit from having a therapist too. Some therapists will offer divorce counseling to the couple. That is one option, especially if you have been in marriage counseling and you both like your therapist . Or you each can have an individual therapist. Couples who chose to resolve their divorces using collaborative practice can work with mental health professionals who act as coaches. They specifically help the parties to work on their divorce process and communication in constructive ways.
Another option is provide the children with a therapist with whom they can speak. The children will be confused and scared. They will also be angry with you, the parents, at times. Older children can usually articulate their anger and confusion verbally, with the parent being the preferred target. Younger children will often act out their anger and confusion. Either way, it becomes difficult to parent the children during a divorce, particularly when you are challenged with your own grief, anger and confusion. If you provide the children with a safe haven to vent their feelings and develop strategies to cope with the situations they face, parenting will become easier during the divorce and after. The child's therapist can help both parents understand what their children are experiencing and feeling and offer suggestions on how better to deal with it and meet the child's needs.
Occasionally, I still hear clients voice the fear that seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness; that they are incapable of managing their own problems effectively. They also fear that it might hurt them in a custody contest. In my experience, the courts see people daily who are not dealing well with their divorces. Judges really appreciate parties who seek appropriate help during troubled times and come to the court ready to settle their cases. I have not had a judge penalize a party for working with a therapist. However, I have seen judges penalize people who are not coping with a difficult situation, such as divorce appropriately.
Increasingly, we realize the huge role that emotions play in successful decision-making. Hiring a therapist to work on your divorce team can have an enormous positive impact for you.