As a couple therapist, my primary role is to help partners communicate better, resolve conflicts, and deepen intimacy. Interestingly, I play an equally important role in educating couples about divorce – a service that might initially seem out of place.
In my practice, clients usually come to couple therapy with one of two goals. The
majority hope to save or enhance their relationship. However, a few attend
(sometimes just for one session) to inform their partner that they want to end the
relationship. In both situations, the couple therapist is typically the first to learn about a couple considering or deciding to divorce. In my office, this moment becomes a critical opportunity for me to offer guidance and help the couple choose a path that minimizes acrimony and damage to their family.
In the past, my discussions with professional peers were compartmentalized: couple therapy topics with therapists and collaborative divorce issues with collaborative professionals. Lately, I’ve been sharing more about the range of divorce options with my mental health colleagues. They are often relieved to learn about collaborative divorce, a process that provides a dignified way for their clients to part ways.
To support my mental health colleagues, I provide them with resources like my divorce options chart for their clients, and I address common concerns and clarify misconceptions about collaborative divorce. This conversation often leads to discussions about how other processes work compared to Collaborative Divorce.
For example, regarding time and cost, I can share with them that a litigation attorney may ask for a small upfront retainer but may not clarify what their hourly rate is, what the retainer covers, and that it’s often the first drop in an expensive bucket that needs to be repaid over and over again increasing both cost and conflict. Having a Collaborative Divorce team focused on the value of time and money for their clients and finding creative fee options that can meet their needs can be much less financially and emotionally expensive.
It’s helpful for the also explain how the Collaborative Divorce process can be suitable even for clients dealing with addiction or complex personality issues. And I emphasize that collaborative divorce includes a mental health professional, ensuring that all clients receive adequate support throughout the process.
Another important aspect I discuss is privacy. In collaborative divorce, the details of the divorce do not become part of the public record – a stark contrast to the often-public nature of litigation.
I don’t always have the opportunity to go into as much depth as I described above, so sometimes I give a brief overview of collaborative divorce and offer my name and number to my colleagues to pass along to their clients so that the clients can contact me directly to discuss divorce options. This step provides a sense of relief to my colleagues, knowing they have a resource to support their clients through this
challenging time. The impact of these conversations became evident when a couple, referred by their individual therapists, sought my help for a collaborative post-nuptial agreement.
As advocates of the collaborative process in family law and Collaborative Divorce Professionals, we therapists play a crucial role. While our primary objective might be to help couples stay together, we also have a responsibility to guide them
compassionately through the process of uncoupling and divorce when needed. Sharing collaborative information with all the mental health colleagues we know provides reassurance to our colleagues, allows them to be advocates for Collaborative process, and gets valuable resources into the hands of clients.
Renee Natvig is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Orlando, Florida (https://www.reneenatvig.com/). She assists adults in Individual and Relationship therapy and is a Collaborative Neutral Facilitator for divorce and other family law matters. She specializes in assisting clients with anxiety, depression, addictions, trauma, relationship issues, LGBTQ+ issues, and life transitions. Renee is certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples & Families and is trained in Emotional Freedom Techniques and Internal Family Systems. She is currently on the Executive Board of Collaborative Family Law Group of Central Florida (CFL-CFL) and Chair of the CFL-CFL Education Committee. She is a member of the Access Committee for the Florida Association of Collaborative Professionals (FACP), an active member of the Central Florida Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (CFAMFT), the Mental Health Association of Central Florida (MHCCF) and the International Association of Collaborative Professionals (IACP), and is a 2023-2024 fellow in the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals Leadership Institute. Renee is licensed in Florida (SW8807) and Missouri (2022045146). She loves staying connected with friends and family, working out, eating good food, and spending time in nature.