You wake up at 2:00 AM, feeling overwhelmed and panicked by the uncertainty of your future.
Questions and worries run through your mind. “What if I don’t want this divorce?” “Will I lose my kids?” “How will I survive?” “How do I tell my spouse our marriage is over?” “How do I tell my parents?” “How do I tell my kids?” “Is this a mistake?” “Will this ruin my kids’ lives?” “Am I going to have to sell the house?” “Do I have to share my retirement savings?” “Do I need to lawyer up?” “I can’t afford a divorce.”
And on and on. So, like many people, you start Googling in the middle of the night.
Somewhere in your Googling, something pops up about “Divorce Coaching.” Like almost everything else related to divorce, this is a new term for you. You wonder, "How can a Divorce Coach help me? How do I know if I need one? How do I find one? What is a Divorce Coach, anyway?"
What is a Divorce Coach?
A Divorce Coach is a trained mental health professional who works with you and shepherds you through your divorce. Divorce Coaches have unique expertise in divorce, co-parenting, parenting planning, child development, the impact of divorce on children, and all other issues related to divorce. Although Divorce Coaches are (and should be) licensed mental health professionals, Divorce Coaching is not therapy. I specialize in Divorce Coaching and consultation and have decades of experience with divorces—and many of them may be similar to your divorce.
How do I know if I need one?
You are overwhelmed. For most people, the prospect of a divorce is an overwhelming life crisis. You need to make big decisions at a time when you are emotionally swamped.
The demands and decisions are confusing. You are exhausted just getting through each day. Sometimes you feel like you have lost yourself in a fog and lost your sense of direction. You don’t know what steps you need to take, how you can figure it all out, how long it will take. Just thinking about it makes you want to crawl under the covers. If this sounds familiar, then a Divorce Coach might be able to help.
Why hire a Divorce Coach?
A Divorce Coach can help you understand one of the first and most important decisions you will have to make. You will need to decide which of the divorce process options available to you will work best for your family: a do-it-yourself divorce, mediation, collaborative divorce, or litigation. The process you choose will dramatically affect every next step.
A Divorce Coach will walk the path with you, through the legal process you have chosen, to provide support and guidance when needed. Often each spouse has their own Coach to “have their back.”
You may be thinking about nesting or birdnesting for a time before your divorce is finalized. If so, your Coach(es) can help you and your spouse develop a nesting plan. Nesting is an arrangement where the children stay in the home, with their same routines, while you and your spouse take turns being “on duty” with a pre-agreed-upon schedule.
One of the first and most painful things you will have to do is talk to your children about the upcoming changes in your family. A Divorce Coach will help you (and often your spouse) structure and plan for this, telling your children what they need to know, without blame. The Divorce Coach will also predict (based on research) how children might react, depending on their age and development. The Coach will help you respond to their questions and concerns in age-appropriate ways.
A Divorce Coach will help you build or strengthen skills to cope with your emotions, especially at meetings with professionals and your spouse. Often the Divorce Coach may attend these meetings to help manage the pace and tenor of the meeting, calling breaks when necessary, and helping all of the professionals (and often your spouse) understand your perspective. In addition, your Coach can help you develop self-care practices to help you feel more grounded and able to cope.
A Divorce Coach will help you begin to envision your life post-divorce, as a single parent and perhaps going back to work. The Coach will help you set some goals and identify activities and interests. This vision helps you plan and may influence your divorce negotiations. For example, if you need re-training to enter the workforce, this can be discussed as part of your divorce settlement.
A Divorce Coach will help you develop skills for the negotiations, which usually come after the information-gathering stage. With the help of your Coach, you will be clear about what is important to you in the final resolution. Identifying what matters most to you and where you can compromise is one of the challenges of divorce.
Your Coach will help you understand and think through the many decisions you will be asked to make. You will feel brave, confident, and articulate in expressing what matters to you without being hijacked by emotions. This makes the process more efficient and cost-effective!
A Divorce Coach will help you develop a comprehensive parenting plan for your children. The plan is tailored to the needs of your family, so every parenting plan is different. The plan includes a time-sharing schedule, but much more than that.
Your Coach should know the research about child development, what kids need, and predict typical issues that could cause conflict later. A well-developed parenting plan will help everyone adjust to the changes in the family as you transition to single-parenting. Best of all, the plan will reduce post-divorce stress and conflict.
A Divorce Coach can help you build a new kind of parenting partnership relationship with your spouse.
This usually means developing new communication skills and ways to minimize conflicts. The methods you used in your marriage probably didn’t work, and a good post-divorce relationship is important for your (and your children’s) adjustment, recovery, and moving on. A Coach can work with both of you, or with one of you, to establish good communication, boundaries, and strategies for dealing with issues that inevitably arise.
How do I find a Divorce Coach?
After googling “Divorce Coaching,” search for the Collaborative Divorce practice groups in your area. You can start here.
Do a little bit of research. Why? Some Divorce Coaches work in adversarial processes to support your proposals and court actions. Sometimes these Coaches have had their own difficult divorces and want to help others in the same situation. Sometimes an untrained “Divorce Coach” can unwittingly add fuel to the fire.
I don’t work this way because I see my role as a guide to support you and your family and avoid adversarial processes, litigation, and conflict. Why? Because even though divorces can cause trauma and long-term damage, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are skills and tools a Divorce Coach can offer you if you are committed to staying out of court.
Be sure to ask whether the Coach is a licensed mental health professional and ask about their training and experience. If you want to have a “conscious uncoupling” or amicable divorce, be sure to find a Divorce Coach who supports that goal. Divorce Coaches who work with mediators or collaborative divorce professionals are more likely to have the right experience and credentials to get you through this difficult time without an escalation of the conflict.
To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2020