By Marian Gage, Family Law Lawyer
One of the most appealing qualities in the Collaborative Process is the idea of the “team model.” Lawyers are present to give advice and advocate for their clients (in non-adversarial way) and, usually early on in the process, lawyers and parties discuss the benefit of adding additional, neutral members to the process to assist.
In many cases Family Professionals are an integral part of a collaborative team.
Sheila Brown is a registered social worker, mediator and separation coach with more than 25 years of experience whose practice specializes in working with families going through separation and divorce. As an experienced collaborative Family Professional, Sheila explains that she can play a variety of roles in the collaborative process, depending on the participants’ needs.
Sheila describes the most common role she takes on: “Helping parents to work out a plan to cooperatively co-parent their children and clarify their expectations of one another with respect to the children so that they are kept out of the middle of conflict. “
Sheila notes that she also assists parents to understand how children may experience separation at different stages of their development and how to talk to their children about separation.
At times she will play the role of “child consultant.” In those cases she will meet with the children and bring their voices to the process so that the parties and their lawyers can coordinate the needs of the children with the needs of different family members.
“Sometimes it’s important to separate the work of the parents from the emotional needs of the children. So having a family professional who is not the same person working with parents to mediate the parenting plan is helpful. That way parents are both getting feedback from someone that they’re not working with in an ongoing way.”
Sheila can also work as a neutral facilitator of the process, and in that role she ensures that all of the parties have the opportunity to be heard in a safe and respectful environment. Sheila says she sees her role as helping people to bring their “best selves” to the table, “so they aren’t negotiating from positions of anger or guilt.”
When asked what people need to bring to the table to be successful in the collaborative process, Sheila observes that there must be some willingness for each person to look beyond their own needs and consider the needs of others, “whether it be your children or your former partner…you have to have some basic level of goodwill.” If parties enter the process with no goodwill, or a lack of willingness to consider another perspective, a positive outcome is much less likely.
Sheila says she works to ensure that people feel respected and heard. “I try to work so nobody feels shamed or blamed…I try to help them determine what is really important to them and why.”
If parties are considering using a Family Professional as part of their team they are reminded that their choice is voluntary (they must both agree before the Family Professional is engaged and, certainly, it is up to the parents whether the Family Professional will meet the children).
Families are also reminded that in any collaborative process it’s the parents themselves making the decisions for their family. The Family Professional is there to help but is never a decision maker.
“I don’t’ make recommendations. I will give parents ideas, tell them what the research says, or share what other parents have done in similar situations but ultimately decision-making rests with the parents as they know their children best.”
When asked what she loves most about her work as a Family Professional, Sheila says it’s knowing that she’s helping parents to reduce conflict, which helps the children in the long term. “It’s believing that…in some small way I’m helping to create peace in families.”
Marian G. Gage
Profession: Family Law Lawyer
|Sheila Brown, MSW, RSW, Acc.FM (OAFM)
Sheila Brown & Associates
|Profession: Registered Social Worker & Mediator