What is Collaborative Law and Social Work

Collaborative Family Law offers divorcing couples a new approach to untangling marriage. The traditional approach has family lawyers settle disputes with at least the threat of litigation.

Collaborative Family Law takes the threat of litigation out of the equation to concentrate on helping the parties settle between themselves yet with legal support. Litigation is not an option.

Lawyers practicing Collaborative Family Law report more satisfaction with this form of practice and believe that negotiated settlements leave the parties more intact as individuals and as parents.

Along with the new approach to settling disputes, there is a new role for those professionals who would otherwise practice divorce mediation or provide custody and access assessments.

These professionals, often social workers and psychologists, are being reenlisted by Collaborative Lawyers as Divorce Coaches and Child Specialists.

In traditional family law, a Divorce Coach may be hired to prepare one parent for court in order to gain a strategic advantage in the litigation process. In the Collaborative Law context, the Divorce Coach helps the parent to understand emotional issues that could cause him or her to be unreasonable.

In other words, in the former context, the coach helps make a better warrior for the battle of litigation, while in the latter context the coach helps make a better conciliator to facilitate settlement. Within the Collaborative Law model, each parent has his or her own Divorce Coach.

The “Child Specialist” is generally described in therapeutic terms, working with the children directly. In this context, the Child Specialist meets with the children to help them deal with the impact of the parents’ divorce on their lives. The Child Specialist may also share information with parents to help them protect the children from untoward outcomes.

There can be challenges arising when using individual Divorce Coaches and Child Specialists as described. Each coach may provide perspectives or information to their respective client that pulls them in different directions, confounding settlement. Certainly “over-identification” with one’s client is a risk inherent in any form of individual support.

Further, when a Child Specialist meets alone with children, there can be conflicts of interest and confidentiality issues if the Child Specialist then reports to parents. Some jurisdictions have confidentiality rules for counsellors working with children, particularly early adolescents.

There are ways to mitigate these issues.  Social workers have a rich tradition in working with entire family. As such, the social worker can engage the entire family in a consultant role. Within this role, perhaps titled Family Divorce Consultant, one social worker would be assigned rather than hiring two separate coaches.

Working from a system’s theory perspective and using clinical discretion, the social worker would have latitude to meet with the entire family system and/or pertinent subsystems (marital, sibling, parent-child and even individuals) as necessary.

The Family Divorce Consultant’s involvement would be time limited and goal directed. The goal is to facilitate the transition to a new family structure (pre-divorce to post divorce) whilst maintaining the integrity of pertinent relationships. Further, the consultant would provide education to the parents to facilitate their mutual interest – the well-being of their children now and developmentally.

Social Work has much to offer Collaborative Family Law. Social Work is built on a tradition of inter-disciplinary teamwork with the goal of win/win outcomes. The structural changes sought to facilitate post-divorce adjustment meet well with the training and values of social workers. Collaborative lawyers and social workers make a natural team.

Collaborative lawyers looking for social workers should consider those with; a “systems” perspective; custody and access experience; current knowledge of relevant theory and practice of divorce and child development; and good inter-personal boundaries. Collaborative Law marks a revolution in thinking. Next will be interesting to view the evolution. Social work is a good fit.

Link Between Divorce and Graduate Education a Concern as More Jobs Require Advanced Degree

Children of divorce are less likely to earn a four-year or graduate degree, according to new research from Iowa State University.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, is one of the first to look specifically at divorce and graduate education. Susan Stewart, professor of sociology, says it is important to understand this relationship as more jobs require a graduate or professional degree.

Stewart and co-authors Cassandra Dorius, assistant professor of human development and family studies; and Camron Devor, lead author and Iowa State alumna, found 27 percent of children with divorced parents had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 50 percent of those with married parents. The split was 12 percent versus 20 percent for those who had or were working toward a graduate or professional degree.

The researchers analyzed 15 years of data collected through the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. The survey followed thousands of youth as they transition from school to work in young adulthood. The last round of data used for this study was collected when youth were 26 to 32 years old.

The data allowed researchers to look at the influence of human (parental education and income) and social (parental social and emotional investment in children) capital. They found married parents were more educated than divorced parents, and there was a significant difference in income. Nearly half of the children with married parents were in the high income category (greater than $246,500/year) compared to 29 percent of children of divorced parents.

“After divorce, for both men and women, incomes take a hit. It takes much longer for that income to recover and for women especially, it never does,” Stewart said. “You are essentially starting over and much of the income that would have gone to a child’s education is sucked up with all the transitions that are part of divorce.”

Time for change?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs requiring a master’s degree are expected to grow by nearly 17 percent between 2016 and 2026. This includes careers ranging from mental health counselors to librarians to elementary and secondary school administrators. Devor, who earned a master’s degree in sociology in 2014, says she wouldn’t have her job as a finance coordinator had she not gone to graduate school.

However, the findings were somewhat surprising to Devor based on her experience at Iowa State. She says several of her classmates in graduate school were children of divorce. Recognizing that this is not always the norm, Devor would like to see the research signal a change.

“This could affect divorce proceedings for child support and the amount that is factored in for college,” Devor said. “In most divorce proceedings, child support cuts off at 18. Just because a child turns 18, that does not mean they still do not need help financially from their family.”

Child’s age matters, to a degree

Children who were still at home or under age 18 when their parents divorced did not fare as well as children who were 18 and older. The research found the odds of those younger children earning a bachelor’s degree were 35 percent lower. However, there was no relationship between the child’s age at the time of divorce and the likelihood of getting a graduate or professional degree.

The researchers also found parents had similar educational expectations for their children, regardless of whether they were divorced or married. Parental expectations were positively associated with children earning a master’s degree. Dorius says children of divorce may feel less entitled to a college degree, so it should help them to know their parents have high educational aspirations for them. However, that encouragement is not enough to offset the relationship between divorce and graduate education.

“This suggests that parental divorce continues to have an effect on children’s graduate school success even after accounting for the encouragement parents give to their children,” Dorius said. “It’s important for future research to look at other inadequacies in social capital that may affect long-term educational success for these children.”

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