During times of transition and grief, parents often expect sadness and anxiety as the news of a divorce is shared and daily activities and homelife changes. We practice empathizing and soothing our children, creating structures and plans to help them feel safe and loved during the changes.  And, still, despite the well thought out plans, disruptive anger and aggression often present themselves in the picture. Today’s article will describe the developmental purpose of anger, as well as offer some strategies for meeting and managing these feelings together as a family.

At every developmental stage, there is a need to have influence and control of our environment, from cradle to grave. We seek a secure base from which to take multiple risks to grow. Children do not have control in a divorce. They don’t decide to separate. For many, the awareness of this and the uncertainties that lie before them, evoke a forceful resistance to maintain a known experience. There is power in anger, a fierce “no” to protect themselves. Children can feel and touch their influence in a real way, as others respond to them. Anger is a normal response to unexpected change. With that said, it is not a desired state to reside within, but move through toward a balanced acceptance of a new reality.

Following are a few ideas to help manage and work with anger and aggression:

  • Acknowledge the truth about the lack of control while creating opportunities for them to have influence. What are some elements of the transition that they can make choices about? Some examples that families have tried are choosing the times of transition “Would you like to go to the other house in the morning or afternoon?” or helping to decorate the new home, “I’d like you to choose the color of dishes for our new kitchen.”
  • Allow for healthy expressions of anger and create a plan, “What are some things you can do when you’re angry?”  Belly breathing doesn’t always work then! What activities can release the physical energy? Jumping on the trampoline, running around the yard, yelling into a pillow, creating a “punching” object are all examples of ways children can direct this emotion. Just as important, establish boundaries around the expressions of anger that are not allowed such as yelling at or punching a sibling. This co created plan creates a safe place to move through the unpleasant feeling.
  • Lastly, help your child to accept this as an understandable response. Many children feel guilt and shame that their anger affects their family, too. “Our family is going through many emotions together, and we’ll get through this together.”  Read books or tell stories to help them understand that other children have felt similarly, too. Anger is a normal response in the grieving process and can lead them to a healthy adjustment within the new family dynamic.


“All of us, from the cradle to the grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figure(s).”-Bowlby, 1988




Diane Gans, MA, LPC
Psychotherapist & Child Specialist
1609 Willamette Falls Dr.
West Linn, OR 97068

Diane’s Website
Email Diane


A divorce coach is a mental health professional – often a psychologist or an LCSW – who assists the client to effectively move through the divorce.

The “divorce coach” is unique to collaborative law.

There is an emotional component of divorce that must be addressed, in addition to the legal component. In fact, the emotional divorce is often more complex than the legal divorce. In traditional litigation, emotions are legally irrelevant  i.e., ignored. In a proper collaborative divorce,  emotions are fully considered.

The divorce coach does not perform therapy. Rather, the relationship is a short-term intervention aimed at helping a client confront the emotional hurdles involved in divorce. Divorce coaching can involve working on a number of skills needed to navigate the process. A few of these skills include:

  • effective listening;
  • effective communicating;
  • learning how to speak-up for oneself;
  • identifying interests; and
  • recognizing how your behavior impacts others.


  1. Divorce Coach will help you get clear and get you out of the “stuckness” you may be feeling.
  2. A Divorce Coach will listen, then help you set goals and plan for the future.
  3. A Divorce Coach will hold you accountable and keep you moving forward, even when it feels too difficult and you want to say ‘enough!’

“A Divorce Coach works for YOU!”

Divorce coaches can help clients address difficult topics too, such as substance abuse issues, infidelity, leaving or having been left and issues related to money.

VIDEO: NBC’s Today Show on Collaborative Divorce (older, but still accurate!)

Because Collaborative Divorce Solutions is client-centered ~ Divorce coaching is client-centered as well. Clients can choose to have a divorce coach or not. One coach can work with both clients or each client can have a coach. Rarely only one client has a divorce coach and the other does not. It is important to realize that the entire family benefits, even if only person is receiving coaching. It is beneficial for the whole family because the issues of one person often effect the entire family and the entire collaborative negotiation.


Gail Jean Nicholson, MA, LPC

Divorce Coach / Personal and Career Counselor

1020 SW Taylor St Ste 350
Portland, OR 97205

Lee Hamilton, MA

Mediator & Collaborative Divorce Coach


Email Lee

Talking to children about divorce is overwhelming. You might choose to work with a professional to develop a personalized plan that meets the needs of your unique family. If this is not possible, or if you want to learn more as you prepare for your appointment, here are 10 Tips for Talking to Kids about Divorce and Separation.


TIP 1: Tell Them Together

Whether you are married or separated, your children need to see you as a parenting team. It can feel impossible to set aside hard feelings when you are grieving the end of a marriage, but it is important to stay focused on something you have in common – your amazing children. If it’s not possible to tell them together, you can work with a professional to develop an alternative plan.

TIP 2: Keep It Short

You get 30-45 seconds to deliver your initial message and then give your kids time to absorb it. Let them know you have decided to divorce, separate or for younger children, “live in two homes”. Provide a general, non-blaming explanation like  “We couldn’t love each other in the way married people need to.” “We want to stop arguing.” “We work better when we’re living in two homes.” Assure them that parents divorce each other but not their children and you both will always love them and take care of them.

You can then share some brief details about what might happen in the near future. “You’ll have two homes now, one with Mommy here at the house, and one with Mama in a new apartment near your school” or “The guinea pig will live at Dad’s new house” or “You’ll still get to play on your soccer team and see all of your friends”.

Reassure your children that even though “a family change like this can be sad and hard, we are all going to be okay”.

TIP 3: Avoid the WHY

Avoid sharing why your marriage ended with your children, especially who decided to leave and why. These are grown-up parent issues. When kids ask why, they often really want to know who to blame and who to take care of. It is your job as parents to make sure they know they don’t have to do either of those things.

Some parents feel dishonest not sharing all the details of the divorce with their kids or not answering all of their questions in full. I assure you, it’s not dishonest to set healthy, developmentally appropriate boundaries. If you do feel compelled to share some of the “why” with your kids, it is a good idea to work with a professional for guidance prior to this conversation.

TIP 4: Practice

Practice can help you send clear messages to your kids in a tone that decreases anxiety. After you have decided on a common narrative together, write down what you want to say and practice saying it. If you have different communication styles, account for that in your planning to make space for both parents to talk. Your tone should let your kids know “We’re going to get through this. We’ve got this. We will be the grown-ups and you get to be kids”.

Of course after all that talk about practice, please know that you do not need perfection. There are three things that matter above all else: 1. Being on the same page  2. Creating the groundwork for open ongoing conversations and  3. Connecting with your kids.

TIP 5: Plan Ahead for Questions

Children need to know they can ask questions openly. They might talk to one parent more than another, and that’s completely normal but they need to know you are both available to them. Brainstorm what questions each child might ask and how you agree to answer them in a developmentally appropriate way. Kids won’t always ask questions right away, so it’s helpful to be prepared for future, impromptu questions.

It’s also okay to say “That’s a great question, we’ll let you know when we have an answer.”

TIP 6: Prepare Yourself Emotionally

Take care of yourself so you can take care of your children. Do your own emotional work so you can avoid burdening your children with your “stuff”. It’s okay for your children to know you’re sad, but it’s not helpful for them to bear witness to your big feelings about the end of your marriage or their other parent’s behavior.

Avoid putting kids in the caretaker role and instead, take this opportunity to model how to manage emotions appropriately. “We feel sad, too. And we have lots of grown ups (or a great therapist, a professional team) we can talk to to help us get through this. Our family is strong and we can get through hard stuff.”

TIP 7: Listen

Keep the focus on your children and their experiences. Listen to their concerns and hold space for their big feels. Each child will go through their own unique process.You do not need to rescue them from the loss and grief that is an inevitable part of divorce; just be present and supportive and help them maneuver this difficult time in the healthiest way possible.

TIP 8: Minimize Conflict

Conflict between parents is the number one indicator of negative  outcomes for children with divorced parents. If you do nothing else, commit to minimizing conflict so it does not come out in front of or within earshot of your children. Be aware that children also pick up on energy and non-verbal cues. Ask your friends or family members to help hold you accountable.

One parent I worked with was determined not to allow their current anger to impact the kids. So they made a plan to ask close friends for some accountability. First, they were asked to do a “kid check” to ensure no kids were home before discussing the divorce or their co-parent. Next they were asked to only allow angry divorce complaining for 5 minutes, at which time they would change the subject.

If ongoing conflict is a major issue between you, co-parent coaching can be a life-long gift to give your children.

TIP 9: Be Kind

Imagine your child as half you and half your co-parent. When you dismiss or criticize your co-parent, you are dismissing or criticizing half of your child. You don’t have to be friends, but your children will be healthier and happier if you are kind and show each other respect.

TIP 10: Get support if you need it

A family divorce professional such as a family mediator, co-parent coach or child specialist can help you create an initial message or “narrative” that is customized for your family, decide how and when to share it, brainstorm how to answer your children’s questions and help you lay the groundwork for future conversations. They can also help you develop a healthier co-parent relationship in the process.

Remember, these early interactions are chapter one of the story your children will tell about the time their parents divorced. You get to help them write that story.


Meg Merrill is a Family Mediator, Family Transition Specialist and Co-parent Coach and a member of Bridges Collaborative Divorce in Portland, Oregon.


To learn more, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.


Meg Merrill, MSW
Family Mediator, Family Transition Specialist and Co-Parent Coach


Meg’s Website
Email Meg

A Tale of Two Divorces

Divorce #1 ~ Bob and Barbara:

Bob and Barbara had been married for 20 years, and they had a contentious marriage for most of their marriage. Their friends, Carol and Chris had been married for about the same length of time and also had a difficult marriage for their last few years.  Each couple had two teenagers who went to the same high school. There were lots of similarities in their family relationships and in their socioeconomic situations. But each took different approaches to getting a divorce, and the difference to their approach had a big impact in every way – financially, emotionally and their post-divorce co-parenting relationship.

Mediation: Bob and Barbara had already started living separately – Bob had moved to the basement and used a separate entrance. They could not agree on much, but Barbara and Bob agreed to try mediation because mediation had worked in several of their friends’ divorces. They found a mediator that came well-recommended. The mediator explained that she could not take sides or make decisions for Bob and Barbara, that the conversations were not only confidential in the eyes of the court, and that the decisions were in their hands if they could reach an agreement.  In mediation they found themselves yelling a lot at each other and engaging in the same arguments they had had many times on their own. The mediator tried having them meet in separate rooms and did her best to help each understand the other’s point of view, but Barbara felt unsupported during the process and Bob felt frustrated they weren’t making any progress. Despite the mediator’s best efforts, they were not able to reach an agreement before the mediator suggested that mediation was not the best process for them. The mediator had charged $240/hour. After three sessions, and billing for correspondence, Bob and Barbara were billed for about $1,200.

Divorce CostAttorneys: After they had been unsuccessful in mediation, Barbara felt desperate to get the ball rolling, so she decided to retain an attorney. Her attorney was known for being a “pitbull” who “will fight for you to the end.” Barbara’s attorney required a $15,000 retainer which Barbara paid for with a credit card at zero interest for 12 months.  Barbara’s attorney filed a petition for dissolution of marriage immediately and proposed that Barbara have sole custody of the children with every-other weekend parenting time for Bob and that Barbara should keep the home and 70% of Bob’s retirement savings.  When Bob was served with the initial paperwork he was shocked and angry with what Barbara’s attorney had proposed, so when he saw who Barbara had retained, he decided to go with an equally aggressive “men’s rights” attorney as a defensive measure. The retainer for Bob’s attorney was $18,000, which he paid from a loan on his 401(k). Bob’s attorney filed a response to Barbara’s petition and then a number of other filings were filed back and forth between attorneys.  Bob and Barbara did not fight as much with each other because their attorneys had instructed them not to discuss issues with each other, and that they (their attorneys) would handle it. Bob and Barbara each saw their first bill about a month after each had retained an attorney. About a third of each retainer had been used up in the process. Bob and Barbara each were experiencing a high level of anxiety as a result of the financial bills and the uncertainty of how the litigation process would go. Barbara started drinking every night after work to numb the emotional pain and anxiety.  Bob started to become short with his coworkers and struggled to focus on his work responsibilities.

The Long Slog: Six months later, Bob and Barbara were still waiting for court.  Barbara’s attorney had been unresponsive for a month, both to Barbara and to Bob’s attorney, because the $15,000 retainer had been used up, Barbara did not immediately make another payment and Barbara’s attorney was unwilling to work without a guarantee of payment. Barbara eventually borrowed $4,000 from her sister and another $1,500 from a friend and took out another credit card – this time with 18% interest right away for $5,500 to get to another $11,000 for her attorney.  Bob had cashed out an IRA he owned from before he and Barbara were married to pay another $7,000 to his attorney.  Depositions had been scheduled and then postponed several times due to the attorney’s schedules and more requests for evidence. Barbara and her attorney believed there could be more accounts Bob might be hiding because Bob had forgotten to provide the most recent statement.  Bob was insistent that he and Barbara have joint legal custody because he was not going to allow Barbara to “take the kids away” from him, and Barbara was not willing to agree to joint custody with Bob given how much he and Barbara had disagreed about the divorce. Meanwhile, the children, Brad and Bella were each struggling in school. Brad had spent less time at home and his grades had dropped so he was kicked off the soccer team. Bella was doing okay academically but she was spending most of her time with his boyfriend.

A Year Later: A year after filing, Bob and Barbara with their attorneys had agreed on a holiday schedule and a 55/45 split of the retirement assets but they still had not agreed on what to do about the house. Bob wanted to sell it within 2 years and divide the equity and Barbara wanted to keep 60% of the equity and sell in 5 years when the kids were a little older. They had agreed on a holiday schedule where Bob had every-other Thursday to Monday, with equal division of summer break parenting-time, but there was still no agreement on custody. A court hearing had been scheduled for six months out.  Barbara’s credit card started charging a high interest rate of over 24% and Bob’s 401(k) loan was mostly unpaid, with 9% interest accruing.

Fifteen months after filing, Bob and Barbara were scheduled for a settlement conference with a judge, who said he would not be the judge deciding their case if they had trial but wanted to give them a reality check about what trial might look like if he were deciding the case in an effort to encourage them to settle out of court. The attorneys insisted that a trial would be necessary. Each required a $15,000 additional retainer to prepare for trial, which each paid with a loan from their respective extended family.

Final Resolution: Eighteen months after first filing, an 8-hour trial was held with expert witnesses. Barbara and Bob each had to testify and answer confrontational questions from the other spouse’s attorneys.  A lot of the personal details of the marriage came out as each attorney tried to make the other spouse look irresponsible and an unfit parent. Barbara was awarded legal custody of the children, with a parenting time schedule previously agreed-to, but Barbara only received 55% of the equity and the judge ordered a sale of the home within one year. The court hearing was contentious Neither was happy with the results of the trial and each had significant debts from paying the attorneys’ fees. Barbara and Bob would argue any time they had to interact and Bob threatened to take Barbara back to court re-litigate custody. Barbara continued to struggle with alcoholism as she coped with a poor financial outlook as she scrambled to prepare for retirement. Bob was fired from his job as a result of poor performance due to being distracted with the divorce, and although he was eventually able to secure new employment, he was forced to declare bankruptcy and was not able to fully recover financially or emotionally from the effects of the divorce.



Divorce #2 ~ Chris and Carol:

Bob and Barbara’s friends, Carol and Chris also had a lot of conflict at the end of their marriage. A couple of years before separating, Chris had been unfaithful to Carol and Carol felt a lot of anger and betrayal when she found out. Carol wanted to end the marriage and Chris said he did not want to make it a difficult divorce, he just wanted to see the kids and wanted something “fair,” as far as the property and debt.

Dignity and divorceCollaborative Divorce: Carol was interested in resolving their case amicably but she was not sure whether she could even face Chris in the same room, so she met with a mediator who was also an attorney to discuss the situation. The mediator/attorney listened to what Carol had to say, and given the fact that there was a lot of conflict in the relationship, that Carol had not worked through the emotional pain of the divorce.  Carol shared that she trusted Chris that he would not lie about money and that she felt like he could be a good parent moving forward, despite the fact that he had hidden the fact that he had maintained another relationship for the last year of their marriage. With Carol’s permission, the mediator reached out to Chris. Chris also expressed interest in resolving the divorce amicably, but he did not want to deal with all the anger Carol expressed any time they talked. The mediator indicated that given the fact that the parties wanted to resolve the case amicably, but because there was still a lot of conflict, that they would benefit from something more than just mediation; collaborative divorce. In a collaborative divorce each spouse would work with an attorney who was collaboratively trained and as part of their role as a collaborative attorney they would not be able to litigate the matter in court and would withdrawal if the collaborative process was unsuccessful.  The mediator referred Carol and Chris to a list of collaborative attorneys. Carol’s attorney required a retainer of $6,000 which she paid from savings and Chris’s attorney required a $6,000 retainer which he paid from a low-interest credit card.

Attorney Involvement: Chris and Carol each decided on an attorney and signed an agreement indicating they understood that their collaborative attorneys would not be able to work with them if for whatever reason they were not able to reach a full agreement. The collaborative attorneys agreed to charge the same rate to each of their clients: $300/hour. The collaborative attorneys went to work by gathering information and forming a team of other professionals – including two mental health counselors with experience working with divorcing clients, and a financial advisor with a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA). Carol and Chris gave permission for the professionals involved to share information freely with each other.  All professionals had also been collaboratively trained. The attorneys suggested that Carol and Chris first connect individually with a counselor to screen for whether the dynamics of where each spouse was at emotionally was conducive to the collaborative process. After meeting with their respective clients, both counselors indicated they thought Carol and Chris could handle the collaborative process but Carol’s counselor suggested some ongoing therapy to work through some of the emotions and that it could be helpful for Carol’s mediator to participate in the negotiation meetings or at least to be available by zoom while she was doing other work and agreed to charge a reduced rate.

Making Progress: Chris and Carol then started to work with their attorneys to gather information. A month later, Chris and Carol had gathered the information and they had started to have negotiations. The financial professional helped Chris and Carol gather some missing statements and then worked with them to develop a projected budget based on their anticipated expenses once they lived separately. Carol and Chris’s attorneys were able to give Chris and Carol reality checks as they were talking or in short individual breakout meetings. Carol wanted Chris to only have supervised visits, but her attorney was able to help her understand that a judge was not likely to award supervised parenting-time unless there were serious safety concerns and that the court generally had the approach of making sure each parent had substantial parenting-time. Chris wanted to divide the assets equally, but his attorney pointed out in a breakout session that during the marriage Carol had stayed home with the children when they were young and she was not as far along in her career as she otherwise would be. Plus, Chris had a higher earning potential and therefore a greater ability to save for retirement.

End Result: Chris and Carol were able to reach full agreement, in fact the same terms that Bob and Barbara ended up with, just with a lot less money. Carol and Chris each paid $7,000 total.


Side-By-Side Comparison:

  • Barbara and Bob collectively paid over $82,000
  • Carol and Chris collectively paid $14,000.

Not only did Chris and Carol spend less on their divorce, but within six months Carol and Chris were able to finalize their divorce, and during the process they experience much lower levels of stress and anxiety. Their children indirectly benefited from the process as well, with fewer behavioral and academic challenges than Bob and Barbara’s children Brand and Bella.  Chris and Carol had a positive co-parenting relationship coming out of the collaborative process, and while they still had disagreements, they were able to successfully avoid further litigation and enjoy a much more secure financial path.


Take Aways:

It can be tricky to know how to proceed with a divorce. Mediation, Collaborative Divorce, Litigation with Attorneys can all make sense under different circumstances. It makes sense to consult with a collaborative attorney who can help you explore your options and to decide what option makes the most sense for you.