Collaborative Practice Marin
Divorce as Temporary "Diminished Capacity"

You don’t need to be a lawyer or a psychologist to know that going through a divorce is one of life’s roughest passages. It can cause a myriad of emotional responses that can at times feel overwhelming and limit your ability to think clearly or make good choices. Unfortunately, this occurs at the very time you are called upon to make some of the most important decisions of your life.

For many people, the ending of a marriage is a time of temporary “diminished capacity.” By diminished capacity, we mean a period during which the person you thought you were on your best days—competent, thoughtful, considerate, reasonable, fair-minded, resilient—disappears for days or weeks at a time. The person you generally know yourself to be gets replaced temporarily by an unfamiliar and frightening self who can hardly summon up enough energy to get out of bed, wallows in fear, confusion or anger, or jumps to hasty conclusions in order to end the conflicting impulses about what to do and how to behave.

Recovering from the shock of a failed marriage involves moving through that initial period of diminished capacity, until gradually, more and more of the time, your pre-divorce “best-self” is back at the helm. Most people can expect to feel something like their old, pre-divorce selves in eighteen to twenty-four months from the time of the divorce decree, though it happens more quickly for some and more slowly for many. During that recovery period, it is quite common for people to veer suddenly and dramatically from day to day, or even hour to hour, between optimism and darkest pessimism, between cooperative good humor and frightening rage.

You may be experiencing such intense emotions as you come to terms with the possible—or actual—ending of your marriage. Most people do, at least some of the time. Keeping the focus on best intentions and good decision making in light of that reality is what collaborative divorce is all about.   

Thinking clearly about what kind of divorce you want and how you’ll get there may be an unfamiliar concept to you. Most people are surprised to learn that the choices made right at the start of the divorce process have great impact on what kind of a divorce experience they will have. Even when people do understand the high stakes of those early choices, thinking clearly and making intelligent choices at that time can be very challenging, because divorce is an emotional wild ride like no other. Even very reasonable and civilized people can find unexpected, hard-to-manage emotions popping up at the most inconvenient times, particularly during the early months of a separation and divorce—exactly the time when you will be making decisions that determine what kind of divorce you are likely to get, and how your divorce will affect the rest of your life.

When you choose collaborative divorce, a team of professional helpers from the fields of law, psychology, and finance will provide coordinated support and guidance to help you and your partner slow down, reflect, focus on values, aspire to high goals, make good choices, work together constructively while avoiding court, plan for the future, and reach deep resolution. In our experience, this kind of coordinated professional help isn’t available anywhere else but in collaborative divorce. If you choose it, you and your spouse can count on professional advice and counsel that will:

  • encourage both of you to remember your goal: the best divorce the two of you are capable of achieving
  • educate and remind you about the divorce grief and recovery process so that you can choose to operate from your hopes rather than your fears
  • help you focus on the future rather than the past, and on your deepest personal values and goals for the future rather than what the local judge is permitted to order
  • make it possible for your financial advice to come from a financial expert, and your parenting advice to come from a child specialist, so that your lawyer is freed to do what lawyers do best: help you reach well-considered resolution
  • keep you and your spouse focused on how your children are really doing, and how the two of you can help them move through the divorce with the least possible pain and “collateral damage”
  • teach both of you new understanding and skills that will help you be more effective co-parents after the divorce than you may be capable of right now as your marriage ends
  • make sure you and your spouse have all the information you’ll need to make wise decisions—not just information about the law, but also about finance, child development, grief and recovery, family systems, negotiating techniques, and anything else that will help you devise creative lasting solutions
  • emphasize consensus and real resolution, not horse-trading and quick fixes
  • help you maintain maximum privacy, creativity, and self-determination in your divorce.

Divorce is never easy, but making the collaborative choice helps you to move through a challenging life passage with dignity, intelligence, and respect.

[Excerpted and adapted from Introduction and Chapter One of Collaborative Divorce: The Revolutionary New Way to Restructure Your Family, Resolve Legal Issues, and Move on with Your Life, by Pauline H. Tesler, J.D., and Peggy Thompson, Ph.D.]

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.

Facing a Divorce in the New Year?

Family Law specialists and therapists will often see a surge in separation and divorce consultations in January.

There are probably two common reasons for this: First, many couples decide to “tough it out” through the holidays, even if the decision to separate has already been made by one or both people.  In my practice, I have heard from adult children of divorce about the holidays being emotionally associated with family crisis because their parents chose to separate during the holiday season.  Year after year, the holidays bring back the memories of the pain of their parents’ divorce.  So I often advise clients to wait until well after the holidays if they plan to separate or divorce.

Second, the stress and strain of the holidays can be the final straw for couples whose relationship is already fragile.  The financial strain or the pressures of family get-togethers in a troubled marriage might cause one or both people to reach their limit and decide to separate. 

Whether you or your spouse made the decision to separate or divorce, in January you may find yourselves facing a decision about how your marriage will end.  You may talk to friends and family, and hear unsolicited advice or horror stories from well-intentioned people who have been divorced.  You may talk to your therapist, clergy, or doctor.  You may be angry, sad, and anxious, in pain, and worried about your children.  You know that making a quick decision in a crisis is generally not a good approach.  Choosing the right process for you and your family is one of the most important decisions you and your spouse can make.  Here are some questions to consider when you think about choosing the Collaborative process:

  1. Do you want to end your marriage with respect and integrity?
  2. Is taking a rational and fair approach to dividing your assets more important than seeing yourself as a winner and your spouse as the loser in this process?
  3. Are your children the most important aspect in this process?
  4. Is saving money, which could go to you or your children more important than spending it on protracted litigation?
  5. Do you want to model for yourself, your spouse and your children how mature adults handle significant challenges?

If your answer is “yes” to these questions, consider having a consultation with a Collaboratively trained professional to see if the Collaborative process is right for you.  A Collaborative Divorce can help you restructure your family in a way that allows you and your family to recover and heal.

--Ann Buscho, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and Collaborative Coach in Marin County.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.


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About Collaborative Practice Marin

CPM is a community of legal, mental health and financial professionals working together to create client-centered processes for resolving conflict.  We are located in Marin County, California. 

Why Collaborative Divorce?

“Divorce is never easy but the collaborative process made mine bearable.  I had more control and therefore less stress and anxiety because I had an active role.”

~JF

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