Good Lawyer / Good Therapist: There’s A Role For Both To Play

“A good therapist is less expensive than a good lawyer.” We’ve uttered those words to many clients.

Yes. We try to help clients gain some perspective about the dissolution process, and their feelings. Our lawyers are not heartless. We want to be there for them. But, at the end of the day, the honest truth is that our ability to provide professional advice on the emotional component of divorce is limited.

Robert Mues, divorce lawyer and editor of the Ohio Family Law Blog, recently collaborated with Donna Ferber, noted psychotherapist, and “switched roles” to discuss the importance of each other’s role during the divorce process.

Attorney Mues writes:

The therapist is not trained in the law, and I am not trained in psychology. We each have distinctly different roles. A good therapist can help a client deal with all the changes in a relationship that are affected by divorce—children, parents, extended family, in-laws, and friends.  The therapist can help the client figure out priorities for the future, deal with anger issues, or help clarify why a person has quit advocating for themselves. Also, therapists can help prepare a client for Court through role playing. The therapist will work with the client to design a plan individually tailored to the emotional needs of the client.  Often times this is different from “marriage counseling.”

Therapist Ferber offers the following tips:

  1. Just because your friend had a good experience with an attorney doesn’t mean they are the right one for you. Trust your gut.
  2. Pick a specialist. While they may be more expensive per hour, they have more experience and in the long run will be both cost and time effective.
  3. Aggression doesn’t insure a “win”. An overly aggressive attorney may fan the flames of conflict rather than move toward resolution.
  4. Pick an attorney who understands this isn’t about “winning”. She/He should understand divorce is about a major change in the family and that more than the “bottom line” will be affected. A good family attorney is willing, when necessary to work with your therapist. He/she is focused on the family’s post divorce situation and understands the interconnectedness of the family does not end with the dissolution of the marriage. In short, they can see the “big picture”.
  5. A consultation is like a first date, what you see is probably what you get. Don’t pick someone who minimizes your concerns, is sarcastic or dismissive. Don’t ignore your own radar by dismissing his/her behavior in favor of excellent credentials.
  6. Don’t use your attorney as a therapist. And don’t use your therapy time to talk about legal issues. Efficient utilization of your professionals will keep costs down, provide you with better information and effective support.
  7. Don’t withhold information from your attorney because you are embarrassed. They aren’t there to judge you, but if you don’t give them the information they need, you cut down on their ability to effectively represent you. Don’t assume drinking, abuse or affairs are not relevant even if you live in a “no fault” state. Underreporting or minimizing can result in your not getting the best settlement. ALWAYS tell your attorney if there are weapons in your home.
  8. Try to stick with the facts. The emotions get processed with your therapist.
  9. Talk frankly about costs up front and what you will be charged for.
  10. Finally, be clear the court is not going to reward you for pain and suffering. Settlements aren’t based on how betrayed or rejected you feel. Keeping an objective attitude regarding the legal system can play a big part in keeping your expectations realistic.

Thank you both for your perspective.

There are other professionals we often refer clients to, including financial planners, mediators, parenting consultants, realtors, mortgage brokers and auto dealers to help with getting life back on track. Each has a unique role to play during this time of transition. It really does pay to find someone who is compassionate and understands your needs following a breakdown of your marriage. Perhaps at some point we can post insight from these folks as well.

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