Are we listening? What clients say they want. (Part 5 of 8) -- Facilitating a Connection: Co-parenting and Collaborative Practice - How Can We Best Help Clients

By: Dr. Randy Heller, Member IACP Research Committee

In reviewing the data gleaned from the 2017 IACP Research Study, it appears that clients who went through the Collaborative Process are generally quite satisfied with co-parenting outcomes, although they are not very satisfied with their relationship with their ex-spouse post-divorce (only 12% were satisfied with this relationship). Additionally, participants report that their satisfaction with their co-parenting relationship is generally weakly correlated with their satisfaction with the Collaborative Process. Moreover, client satisfaction in co-parenting with their ex-spouse is somewhat surprisingly low. These statistics present some very interesting questions for professionals that can ultimately transform what we do and how we do it.

Do spouses recognize at the onset that the differences in their differences in parenting styles have been a significant factor in their marriage and perhaps a contributing influence in the demise of their marriage, and therefore, their expectations about improvement in this ability to co-parent may be realistically low?

Do spouses come to the Collaborative arena with a determination to focus on the best interest of their children, and perceive that their co-parenting relationship is already intact or Ok enough?

Is there a possibility that people can separate the “business of co-parenting” from the way that they feel about their ex-spouse as a person, and believe they can co-parent effectively even if they have little or no need or desire to extend that relationship beyond that?

Is it likely that although divorcing spouses recognize the significance of their getting along on the emotional outcomes for their children, however, if they were speaking their truth, would tell us that they would rather not be tied to this other person any longer if they did not have to be?

Should/can Collaborative professionals do more to address the co-parenting relationship which may ultimately increase clients’ connection between parenting outcomes and their experience in the Collaborative Process? 

Are we contributing to clients’ unrealistic expectations about co-parenting post-divorce?

Do we, as proponents of Collaborative Practice have unrealistic expectations of the Collaborative Process and our clients’ needs and desires post-divorce? 

As Collaborative professionals who are passionate about the benefits of Collaborative Practice for families, might we lose sight of what the client perceives as beneficial? We espouse the importance of this being a “client-driven process.” How often do we as professionals actually incorporate a conversation at the first team meeting about where clients were before the process began, where they are, and where they want to go?  How much do we, as a team, know about our clients’ vision of where they hope to end up, how they will know if this process was successful for them, and what needs to be in place in order for that to occur? In an effort to be efficient and maintain a cost-effective process, are we excluding some critical inquiry and discussion from our professional briefings and full team meetings that will more deeply and succinctly guide our understanding of what the clients want and need, or are we imposing our own biases about what we think the outcomes should be?  How can we better understand what clients need from us, as opposed to what we think they need? What can we do to best accomplish this?

Dr. Randy Heller received her doctorate in Family Therapy from Nova Southeastern University. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Certified Supreme Court Family Mediator, Qualified Parenting Coordinator, Certified Hypnotherapist, as well as the Founder and Clinical Director of The Family Network, Collaborative Counseling Center for Positive Growth and Change, established in 1994. She is a Clinical Fellow and Approved Supervisor of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.

Dr. Heller is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. She also serves as a board member of the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals and as President of the Collaborative Family Law Professionals of South Florida, as well as a member of the Collaborative Family Law Institute. She is also an active member of the Access and Research Committees of the IACP since 2007.

Dr. Heller has written and teaches a Collaborative Divorce class for Masters and Doctoral students in the Department of Family Therapy at Nova Southeastern University which is in its fifth year. These students participate in Dr. Heller’s Pro Bono Collaborative Divorce Project for Veteran Families.