Divorce Coaches Are Not All the Same

No matter how amicable a couple may be, going through a divorce is a very complex and deeply emotional experience. Not only are the parties facing the emotional issues surrounding the decision to divorce, they are also confronted with the adversarial family court process. The legal assumption in the adversarial court process is that only when the parties take strong polarized positions can the judge discover the truth and declare a winner. In a divorce, when the emotional issues are joined with the adversarial court issues, the “must win” attitude of the adversarial process only serves to perpetuate and exacerbate the parental conflict. As such, it is clear why going through a divorce is considered to be the second most stressful process a person will experience in life, second only to the death of an immediate family member.

One of the exploding areas of growth in the past ten to fifteen years has been coaching – from personal and life coaching to executive and corporate coaching. In the coaching model, the client is viewed as going through an acute situation that can be resolved through or assisted by the coaching skills of the coach. Many individuals cannot conceive themselves ever entering into traditional therapy. However, many of these same individuals will have no problem in hiring a coach. This fact may have to do with the attitude that “therapy” is a sign of personal weakness, whereas hiring a personal coach can be a sign of strength.

One of the major differences between therapy and coaching is the client. In the therapy model, the client (a) has a problem, (b) that requires a diagnosis, (c) that promotes a treatment plan, and (d) that ends with an intervention or cure. Unlike this therapy model, in the coaching model the client is not perceived as having any particular problem – the client is not diagnosed, a treatment plan is not developed, and there is no intervention or cure.

Another major difference between therapy and coaching are the differences between the requirements to be a therapist and the lack of requirements to be a coach. To be a therapist you must have a license, complying with continuing educational requirements, and abide by a set of ethical standards. To hold your self out as a coach requires no license, no educational minimums, and there are no consequences for violating any ethical standard. Although the web site for both the International Association of Coaching (IAC) [certifiedcoach.org] and the International Coach Federation (ICF) [coachfederation.org] have loosely defined ethical codes, there are no consequences for breaching those ethics. According to these web sites, a coach simply relies on their own life experiences as their scope of practice. There are no legal or ethical issues to violate in the coaching model.

Arguably the fastest growing area of this coaching phenomenon is divorce coaching. Simplified, divorce coaching is basically assisting the client in dealing with emotional issues that are (a) interfering with the client’s ability to appropriately deal with their spouse, thereby (b) interfering with their ability to proactively assist and become an active partner with their attorney, that (c) is interfering with the client’s ability to make good legal decisions for themselves and their children.

There are no set qualifications for those holding themselves out to be divorce coaches. A coach is not licensed; therefore, their business practices are not governed or sanctioned by an official or legal entity. Their code of ethics is really just a very loose set of optional guidelines. Without any licensing requirements, and not bound by any specific code of ethics, unlicensed divorce coaches simply rely on their own divorce experiences (or those of others) in their attempt to provide some type of assistance to those willing to pay the price. Therefore, a person holding him or her self out as a divorce coach has no license to lose, and no reason to uphold any particular ethical standard.

Collaborative divorce is the fastest growing area of law in recent years. And, it is continuing to gain in popularity among the courts, judges, attorneys, and most importantly, individuals who are considering divorce. Collaborative divorce is a process involving family law attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial specialists all working together cooperatively to bring about a solution that is fair, just, and equitable for all family members. It is a process that supports the entire family and provides for a smooth transition into a new restructured family.

In the traditional adversarial divorce process, many parents use the process as a therapeutic tool thinking it will heal or sooth their pain, to justify their actions, or to seek vindication for the perceived “wrongs” of the other parent. In the collaborative process, the coaches are there to assist the parties when they hit these emotional roadblocks. Instead of paying their attorneys to conduct research, discovery, and trial preparation to “battle” each other, the parties spend their money on resolving their issues constructively and fairly. The professional collaborative team is not only committed to keeping the parties out of court, they are also there to help the parties transition their marriage into two households in a peaceful, intelligent, and restorative manner.

Unlike the general coaching model, the divorce coach in the collaborative divorce model is required to be a licensed mental health professional. They are governed by licensing requirements, continuing education mandates, and compliance with their professional code of ethics. However, because they are also called divorce coaches, licensed professional therapist can easily be confused with untrained, unlicensed, and unregulated coaches.

Therefore, if you are going through a divorce and determine that you need a divorce coach, you will want to protect yourself by ensuring you retain a licensed therapist, trained and experienced as a divorce coach.