Blog | November 5, 2020

Supporting Children Through Separation and Divorce: How Collaborative Divorce Can Help

Ryan Osbourne and Stephanie Stavro-Pearce

It is no secret that separation and divorce can negatively affect children – and children’s health experts agree. The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) has highlighted that most children going through family change will feel confusion and concern about what is going to happen to them. Additionally, if separation and divorce are not handled by parents with care, family change can vastly impact their behaviour, academic achievement, identity, and relationships. As a result, these children are at a higher risk of experiencing poverty, engaging in unsafe sexual behaviour, having unplanned pregnancies, having relationship conflicts, and going through separation and/or divorce later in life.

To address and prevent the possibilities of children experiencing such difficulties during the separation/divorce process, the CPS has suggested 3 key actions that caregivers should do to mitigate stress and worries amongst children:

  1. Reduce hostility and conflict and stay out of court if possible
  2. Engage in open communication with the children
  3. Foster a supportive and loving parenting relationship

How can Collaborative Divorce Help Parents & Caregivers?

Collaborative Divorce is an out-of-court resolution process designed to empower people to resolve family matters and make decisions on their own, without a judge directing them what to do. Members of a collaborative team can include collaboratively trained professionals such as lawyers, financial experts, and family professionals. The professionals involved in a family separation vary depending on individual family needs. All collaborative professionals have the skills to approach family matters with empathy and compassion. They focus on understanding the unique and individual needs of each family, while ensuring that people feel heard and valued during the separation/divorce process.

The process is helpful as it is continuously tailored to fit each individual family situation. For example, when high levels of conflict and hostility are involved, collaborative professionals can design a process that ensures everybody feels safe. Ways to do this may include using separate rooms, also known as “shuttling”, to avoid face-to-face contact. Given our current climate, many families may choose to connect remotely or via a hybrid in-person/online model, an approach which many collaborative practitioners can now also accommodate. Communication is managed through the collaborative professionals in order to work towards resolution in a safe and efficient manner.

Given the various possibilities, Collaborative Divorce has the ability to drastically reduce conflict and hostility between parents. Respect and amicable communication are important skills that continuously need to be worked on; and Collaborative Divorce supports parents in growing these skills by addressing the emotional side of family change in a considerate and constructive manner.

Less conflict and hostility means less stress – this allows parents to focus more of their energy on their own health and that of their children. Reducing children’s exposure to conflict, and being able to parent effectively, will go a long way towards mitigating the effects of divorce on children.

Collaborative Divorce takes the focus away from a “win” at all costs attitude and alternatively asks that the separating parties commit to respecting each other and putting their child(ren)’s needs first, even if they have difficulties getting along. Collaborative Divorce provides the opportunity for couples to problem solve, explore, and agree upon their own solutions with the support of collaborative professionals. Collaborative Divorce can ultimately take much less time, save families money, and reduce stress overall compared to the alternative of family court litigation.

In addition, collaborative family lawyers can be a great support for parents going through a divorce or separation. They can also help the parents decide if it may be time to get help from a family professional or doctor.

How can a Family Professional Help?

Family Professionals are specially trained to work with parents, children, and/or other family members during the separation and divorce process and are often part of the collaborative team. Their goal is to support families through the emotional and interpersonal aspects that often arise during separation, so families can remain focused on their goals and adjust to family change in a healthier way. Family professionals help family members build skills that support them through a very difficult time in their lives.

Family Professionals can support parents by addressing topics such as:

  • How to talk to children about separation and divorce
  • How to design ongoing communication strategies to mitigate blame between partners
  • Help parents provide collective love and support to children throughout the process andbeyond
  • How to manage their children’s questions and emotions
  • How to work together as co-parents and to set an example for how relationships can endin healthy, amicable, and safe ways
  • Help parents figure out when it may be time to seek support from other health careprofessionals
  • Assist parents in reaching custody and parenting plans that suit the needs of their family
  • Revisit any parenting or child related issues at a later time, after the Collaborative Divorce process, to support the family as a known, trusted professional

Family professionals work directly with children by:

  • Providing a confidential, private, non-judgmental and safe space to speak about their issues and struggles
  • Help children process grief, loss, anxiety, and stress
  • Help children feel empowered to express their feelings and needs to their parents, at times with the presence and support of the family professional
  • Help children identify and build resilience
  • Help children develop skills and coping strategies to manage difficult feelings and behaviours

Family Professionals can be integral collaborative team members during the most difficult time for parents and children. There are many underlying feelings, stressors, and worries that are experienced by family members in various ways. Having a mental health professional to support both parents and children through this challenging time can help to significantly reduce the negative impact divorce/separation can have on children. Integrating such support into the divorce/separation process is highly beneficial as Family Professionals have the skills, experience and compassion to support separating/divorcing families.

Furthermore, including a Family Professional in the Collaborative Divorce process can be an easier decision to make knowing that their fees are often covered by insurance providers.

So Why Choose the Collaborative Divorce process?

The Collaborative process is an efficient, cost-effective approach that can vastly mitigate conflicts that often arises from divorce/separation. It is a supportive, non-judgemental, collective approach that allows parents to voice their individual perspectives and needs, promote amicable communication, and, most importantly, help them be able to support their children. Given that children’s health experts have provided research findings on the benefits of low-conflict separation/divorce, parents choosing to resolve matters through the Collaborative Divorce process have strong potential to reduce the impact of separation and divorce on their children.

Additional Resources

To read the CPS Position Statement: Supporting the Mental Health of Children and Youth of Separating Parents, checkout: https://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/%20mental-health- children-and-youth-of-separating-parents

For helpful tips on how to talk to kids about separation and divorce and how to make the transition easier, check out: https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/separation_and_divorce

About the Authors:

Ryan Osbourne is a collaborative lawyer and mediator at Osbourne Collaborative Law. Ryan can be reached directly at ryan@osbournecollaborativelaw.com
Learn more at https://www.osbournecollaborativelaw.com

Stephanie Stavro-Pearce is a collaboratively trained family professional and child and family therapist at Reaching Resolution Therapy. Stephanie can be reached directly at stephanie@reachingresolution.ca
Learn more at https://reachingresolution.ca

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