Collaborative Divorce is a Unique Process That Helps Many Local Families

Have you ever wondered what makes collaborative divorce different from mediation or traditional litigation, and why so many families use it? Maybe you’re curious what role a Financial Specialist could play, or why so many people even have to be involved in a divorce. 

We sat down with some of the men and women from Collaborative Divorce Professionals in Grand Rapids to learn a little more about the process and the collaborative team. When going through the life-changing steps of divorce, a lot of local parents are very relieved to have a whole team of compassionate professionals committed to helping them through. 

Who makes up the Collaborative Team and Why?

There are several people who are committed to each case, each bringing their own expertise.

Randall L. Velzen, Collaborative Attorney

Randy works with couples as a Collaborative Attorney. He describes the typical team that works with couples going through the collaborative divorce process. 

“Every team in West Michigan has a Divorce Coach and 2 attorneys. The next most common person would be a Financial Specialist,” he says. 

“Sometimes we use 2 coaches, so a coach is aligned with each party. And then we also have a Child Specialist if there’s a need for some more individualized issues regarding minor children.” 

Randy says that being a Collaborative Attorney means working with a team and finding solutions – even if those solutions aren’t what you expect!

In one situation, a parent of a young child who requested a certain amount of child custody. The collaborative team agreed that it was unrealistic, so Randy and his team worked with both parents to find a better solution for the child.

Each person on the collaborative team works together to make sure everyone wins.

How is Collaborative Divorce Different from Mediation and Traditional Divorce?

If you’re thinking of divorce, you may feel overwhelmed trying to decide method to use. Collaborative Attorney Elizabeth Bransdorfer says the end result is the same from each method, so the one you choose depends on your situation.

Elizabeth Bransdorfer, Collaborative Attorney

“Whether or not you want a mediation process which is very informal and unstructured, or a collaborative process which is more structured and supported by multidisciplinary professionals, or a litigation process which is the most highly structured and the most adversarial, depends largely on where you are at the beginning when you first come to talk to someone about divorce and what you think you can do, what you trust your spouse to do, and how important it is to you to lay the groundwork for the future, not just get through the immediate crisis,” says Liz.

Liz says that 98% of cases settle so she recommends looking into mediation or collaborative processes to see if you can avoid the bad parts of litigation by being in that 98%.

What is the Role of a Divorce Coach, and do we Really Need One?

It may seem like just an extra person, but the Divorce Coach is an important component of the process, and kind of like the glue that’s going to hold the team together.

Craig DeWitt, Mental Health Professional / Divorce Coach

Divorce Coaches are mental health professionals, with a degree in psychology or counseling. Divorce is a difficult and emotional time so the Divorce Coach works with couples in the process to increase their communication and understanding.

“As a coach, hopefully I’m going to try to create a better or more effective form of communication style between them as we go through this process,” says Craig. 

Typically, a coach meets with each party individually, and then as a couple. Through these meetings, the coach gets to know the couple’s background, the history of their relationship, and the emotional struggles or conflicts that arose during their marriage and going into their divorce.

But he also points out that the coach is an important part of the wider process

“The other role of a coach is to help facilitate the communication and the effectiveness of the team working together. So the other attorneys are in the sessions and I’m helping them understand what are some of the dynamics that have gone on with this couple,” says Craig.  

“And out of that we get to understand some of those hot buttons that may get pushed at certain times of the process. And if the attorneys know that, they know how to respond in a way, too, that’s not going to make more conflict and more tension. They can try to come alongside their own respective clients to work through those things.”

What is the role of the Child Specialist?

A Child Specialist is the neutral advocate who works on behalf of the child. This member of the collaborative team makes sure that the child has a voice in the overall divorce process.

Craig DeWitt, Mental Health Professional / Divorce Coach

“We want to make sure that the children have a voice. This is often something that they have no control over and they’re having to deal with the aftermath of their parents’ decision.” 

Craig explains how a Child Specialist meets separately with the parents and the child or children to listen to their concerns, and then meets with the team as an advocate for the child.

The Child Specialist also recommends how and when the parents can divide time with the child. Craig says the Divorce Coach is the person who actually writes out this parenting time plan, but the coach gets the information from the Child Specialist.

The ultimate goal is for the whole family to feel good about where things stand as they head into the future.

Why Would you need a Financial Specialist on your Team?

A lot of people might think that they don’t need a Financial Specialist involved in their divorce if they have uncomplicated finances or they are good at financial planning. But Lucy says there are benefits beyond just simply managing the money.

Lucy Shair, Financial Specialist

“The real value of a financial (specialist) is the neutrality. I serve as a neutral third party that is serving both spouses at once, which allows me to have the outside perspective that brings credibility and a sense of fairness to the process.” 

There are two different kinds of Financial Specialists who work with Collaborative Divorce: financial planners or advisors (like Lucy) who work with clients on cash flow and budgeting and divide investments and business valuation specialists who are important in cases where a business is involved.

Lucy says the important thing to remember about collaborative divorce is that you don’t have to do what a judge tells you! Instead, you’re free to find solutions that are tailor-made for your family. A Financial Specialist will help you find those best solutions.

Ok, I am Sold on a Collaborative Divorce, but how Expensive is It? What are the Financial Advantages of This Route?

With all the incredible resources that the collaborative divorce team uses, you might expect a hefty price tag.

Erica Wikander, Collaborative Attorney

An extreme litigated case will be significantly more expensive than an extreme collaborative case, but when you’re looking at averages, the traditional average collaborative case should be relatively less expensive than a litigated case,” says Erica.

Erica explains that it can actually be cheaper in the long run because you are using everyone’s time – including your own – more efficiently.

For example, when you hire a financial planner, that person is neutral and works for everyone. In a traditional case, each party’s attorney gathers and reports on financial information. But they may not all get all of it. In a collaborative divorce, all financial information goes through the financial expert and everyone has the same information.

If You’re Looking for a Gentler Divorce, You’ve Come to the Right Place

These professionals are dedicated to helping local parents through the painful journey of divorce in the gentlest way possible. Here at GRKIDS we love to promote healthy, happy lives in Grand Rapids. We love partnering with Collaborative Divorce Professionals because they work hard to make the difficult, sad business of divorce have the best outcomes possible, for parents and kids alike.

29 Pearl Street NW, Suite 414, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

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