I’m pleased to say that this article recently appeared in The BC Psychologist, Spring 2018.
The purpose of this article is to invite B.C. psychologists to explore and get involved in the rapidly evolving domain of Integrated Divorce Services. This term refers to the many ways in which psychologists, legal professionals, and financial professionals are now working together to promote the health and well-being of families experiencing parental separation and divorce – and all without ever going to court. Integrated Divorce Services support the family system by integrating the different elements found in most divorce processes – the legal, financial and relational or emotional aspects for both adults and children.
Although our disciplines are distinct, for families, these aspects are interwoven into the fabric of daily life. Integrated Divorce Services protect the public by encouraging professionals to bridge to each other and to the family. These services also expand the possibilities for consensual divorce options to more families thereby reducing the need for litigation and at the same time focusing on protecting and strengthening the individuals and the relationships in the family.
For the purpose of this article, we will take a brief look at three models of Integrated Divorce Services: Collaborative Divorce, Integrative Mediation and the REACH program.
Integrated Divorce Services support the family system by integrating the different elements found in most divorce processes – the legal, financial and relational or emotional.
Taken together, the combined structure of what has been termed Collaborative Divorce covers all of the elements of the divorce process for families: legal, financial, emotional/relational, and those that relate to the children. The trajectories of these innovations are only just beginning as those of us within the fertile territory of the Collaborative Divorce community
witness the development of different approaches, team structures and processes emerging as Collaborative professionals develop their thinking and
Although mediation predates Collaborative Divorce, it was within the Collaborative Divorce communities that the legal, therapeutic and financial professionals came together to form interdisciplinary professional communities and networks. For example, in Vancouver, we have been holding dinner meetings ten times per year for the past 18 years. These meetings give professionals a chance to meet, share a meal, and hear a speaker such as “Integrative Mediation,” presented by Dr. Stephen Sulmeyer, lawyer and clinical psychologist, mediator and Collaborative Divorce practitioner in 2017.
Integrative Mediation has been strongly influenced by the Collaborative Divorce movement. Random lawyers and Mental Health Professionals have been co-mediating since at least the 1970s, and continue to do so. However, Collaborative Divorce is the first consensual modality to fully embrace the interdisciplinary approach. As such, the model for Integrative Mediation was consolidated by and enhanced by the Collaborative Divorce community. For example, in California, Integrative Mediation Bay Area grew out of the Collaborative Divorce Community already established in the San Francisco Bay area.
In Integrative Mediation, as in traditional mediation, the professionals act as neutrals to the parties. There may be a lawyer mediator, psychologist mediator and/or a financial mediator involved, bridging their work together for the benefit of the family. The parties may meet with the neutrals separately or together as is appropriate to the situation. The professionals work as a team, sharing information as necessary. Any given process may have joint meetings and/or individual ones. The professional team, together with the parties, can decide what is
needed in order to support the best steps forward.
Given that both Integrative Mediation and Collaborative Divorce are consensual process choices outside the court system, there is overlap between them. Many professionals working in the Collaborative model also chose to practice in the Integrative Mediation model and vice versa.
Whether Collaborative Divorce or Integrative Mediation is the better option for any particular family depends on the family and the situation. Do one or the other of the parties need legal or emotional advocacy? How complex are the tasks to be resolved? What are the preferences of the parties for neutral support or representation in the legal and/or therapeutic domain?
REACH: Re-Unification and Co-parenting in High Conflict and Complexity
The REACH team is yet another off-shoot from the Collaborative Divorce community (Gamache & Leask, 2016; Colby & Gamache, 2018). REACH uses the team
model developed in Collaborative Divorce to address disrupted parent-child relationships during or post- separation, in situations of high conflict and complexity. The goal of the REACH team is to support both the family in distress as well as the judiciary and the officers of the court while keeping the therapeutic team external to the litigation process.
REACH integrates therapeutic evaluation and in-depth therapeutic treatment services together with various court services to support children and families, judiciary and other officers of the court and create pathways out of the court process to resolution that may include on-going therapeutic support. The team structure also supports the team members as the work evolves within the troubled family system. The REACH contract waives confidentiality to the level of the team and clearly articulates the relationship of the team to the court process.
A REACH team includes psychologists with strong backgrounds in family systems and separation and divorce. Each team is made up of 4 members: a Child Therapist(s), a Parent Therapist for each parent, and a Court Designate. The REACH process generally starts with a court order stipulating that the family participate in the REACH program.
Similar to the Collaborative Divorce model, the Child Therapist provides ongoing therapy to the children, works with the REACH Parent Therapists to assist the parents and works as a team member to support the work of the Parent Therapists with the respective parent. The Parent Therapists work directly with their respective parent in individual meetings, in joint meetings with the other Parent and Parent Therapists and as a team member with the rest of the team. Parent Therapists also facilitate feedback from the Child Therapist to the parents such that the Child Therapist is able to focus on the children and does not need to address parental conflict. The Court Designate may be a lawyer or a psychologist. They are the bridge from the therapeutic team to court or officers of the court such as lawyers or Parenting Coordinators. The Court Designate provides feedback to the court and holds parents accountable to court orders. The Court Designate also provides a point of intake for the parents.
Psychologists are well situated to include Integrated Divorce Services in their repertoire of services offered to the public. As these and future initiatives continue to grow and develop, there are many opportunities to get involved. I believe the public also has the right to access psychologists for these types of services. Not only do psychologists have high levels of education
and strong experience, many parents have extended medical benefits that can help reduce the costs of separation and divorce.
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