“Thou shalt not play tug of war” and other tips for getting the most out of your collaborative team

collaborative divorce

Some of the trickiest aspects of supporting couples through a collaborative divorce result from the nature of my involvement. As a neutral financial planner, my role is to support both Husband and Wife so that they can make the best decisions regarding their assets and debt. That may sound straight-forward, and it would be – if it were not for clandestine requests I get from time to time.

  • “I need you to tell my husband that I deserve to be compensated for what I have given up all these years. This amount is only fair.”
  • “I’ve made this list of how to split our property. It’s the only fair way to divide everything. I need you to help my wife see this is the only way to do it. She’s being unreasonable and won’t listen to me.”

These questions put me in a difficult situation. On the one hand, both spouses trust my expertise and ability to ask the right questions and explain financial issues. I can understand why they would bring financial questions and requests to me. On the other hand, I cannot use my expertise that to the exclusive benefit of Husband or Wife. That, in effect, sabotages my neutrality. I do not wish to withhold information or be difficult, but neutrality is my ticket to the case. Without it, my role on the team is compromised.

Here is my advice for couples who are going through (or considering) a collaborative divorce process and wish to get the most out of their professional team.

Be clear on the expectations.

Husband and Wife each have an attorney who represents their individual interests. Those attorneys are trained and experienced in the collaborative process and intently focused on working together to craft the best possible solution for the family overall. Each attorney will also support their client by making recommendations, raising difficult questions, and generally championing their client throughout the process.

Neutral professionals are there to serve as a resource and offer assistance to the couple and the attorneys. Do not expect the neutral financial planner or communications coach to take your side, no matter how strongly you feel about being right.

Neutrality in fact and in appearance is critical.

To be effective in my role, I must remain neutral both in fact and in appearance. If something as much as looks like favoritism towards one spouse, it has the potential to damage the trust I have built with the other spouse. If one of the spouses or attorneys has reason to believe that I am not acting in the best interest of both parties, they could raise the question of replacing me with another financial professional.

Without trust and goodwill, the collaborative process is at risk. If the team cannot reach a mutually acceptable resolution, each spouse will have to find another attorney and begin the process anew – this time in the traditional litigation process, which can land them in the courtroom. In addition to the obvious frustration, that means more money and delays for both Husband and Wife. Asking your neutral professionals to pick sides can have a very real cost.

Getting the most out of your collaborative team

So, what should you do if you want to maximize the benefit of using a collaborative professional team? I recommend raising any pressing concerns first with your attorney.  As he or she represents your interests, it is within your attorney’s role, not the neutral professional’s role, to raise inquiries or requests that could be perceived as challenging. Do not ask neutral professionals to overstep the boundaries of their roles by taking sides or acting as a messenger. Remember that if they are no longer perceived as neutral, they cannot be as effective – and that will hurt both you and your spouse in the long run.

Image credit: http://cdn.notonthehighstreet.com/fs/0d/dc/3de5-47e3-42a9-b691-d19e3779e46f/original_tug-of-war-toy.jpg

About Tracy Stewart

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