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Collaborative Divorce Empowers Stay-at-Home Spouse Re-Entering the Workplace

Increasingly in recent years, couples seeking an amicable divorce have chosen mediation as a way to avoid a nasty escalation into an expensive, attorney-driven legal battle. This works for many families. However, anecdotal research shows that other folks still want more than a neutral mediator: they need an advocate in their corner. In a Collaborative Divorce, a settle out-of-court option, each party has their own specially-trained attorney who advocates for them, but not in direct opposition to their partner. Collaborative Divorce is conducted in the spirit of mediation, with the goal of maintaining mutual respect, safety and hope for the future for both husband and wife throughout the process.

Divorcing has often required financial support for women as they re-enter the workforce, typically after many years at home caring for children. Increasingly, in our modern world, there are stay-at-home dads in the same situation. Unfortunately, fathers may have also experienced a devaluation of their talents and skills, as someone who didn’t receive an outside income for work done during the marriage. This can leave both mothers and fathers feeling vulnerable and “one down” as they enter the negotiation process.

Women and men who are financially vulnerable are supported by the collaborative team, which includes a vocational expert who provides supportive counseling to the stay-at-home spouse, while clarifying their interests, values and skills. The counselor helps the person understand the need for training and evaluates potential earning capacity. The assessment works for both spouses, helping to identity the career path that would be best for the person re-entering the workplace, as well as the amount and duration of financial assistance needed as they transition to being more self-supporting. The thoughts and feelings of the spouse who will be contributing to support payments are also solicited because realistic and feasible arrangements are the goal.

In traditional litigation, the stay-at-home spouse is frequently evaluated by a “hired-gun” vocational expert to determine their potential earnings, as both sides prepare to go to court (or typically, settle at the last moment, just before trial). Sometimes, the litigating lawyers for both the husband and wife will pay for an expert to forecast the career path that would be best, or earn the most, for the person re-entering the workplace. These proceedings often do not include the feelings and choices of the person being evaluated and can become quite contentious as the supporting party seeks to reduce their ongoing financial outlay. The vulnerable spouse can experience extreme anxiety, including a sense of having no control over their future.

The vocational coach in a collaborative case seeks to empower the stay-at-home spouse. The client is engaged and supported through career testing, homework and exploratory exercises that develop and reinforce their emerging identity as a newly single person and their choices for the life that is to come. The collaborative process is facilitated by professionals outside the court and usually results in real growth for both sides, compared to the adversarial, litigation system. Personal and career progress is enhanced, as evidenced by a renewed sense of self, self-confidence, purpose, hope and excitement about the options being explored, a true “win-win” for both spouses.