The Relationship Blog

The Real Threat to the Collaborative Team

When I first started training in collaborative divorce, the major concern was on what does a team do if the divorcing couple decides to litigate instead of collaborate. In order to address that kind of decision, it was stipulated and stated in the initial agreement with the clients that the team would drop out of the process. The team’s willingness to drop out of the process has always been central to the power of collaborative divorce.

As I have participated in a greater number of collaborative cases, it has become apparent to me that the real threat to collaborative divorce or to the collaborative team is “not litigation, it is elimination.” The elimination of one or more members of the team typically by just one of the partners is a much more crucial issue to being an effective team in this work than litigation.

Since some of our primary work is with high conflict couples, we are constantly having to deal with borderline and narcissistic personalities. These kind of personalities see the world as good or bad and superior or inferior, which raises the question of eliminating others every time they are feel abandoned or disappointed. If the collaborative team is not prepared to deal with this eliminating maneuver, the team will end up surprised and in chaos. In addition, the clients will then assume that they can be in charge of the structure of the sessions, which will inhibit the team’s ability to guide the process.

The issue of elimination can manifest in several ways; client or clients express the desire to get rid of one or both of the coaches, one of the attorneys, or the financial person. This tactic frequently impacts the cohesiveness of the team and the direction of the work, and gives the clients a sense of pseudo power. Now it can certainly be argued that the clients have a right to choose professionals who they are comfortable with. However, it gets tricky when one of the team is being removed solely to control the process or maintain power over the other.

When a team member is threatened by removal for control purposes, there are several indications:

• The team member is dealt with indirectly

• There is a false accusation with no evidence to support it

• It usually follows a team member standing up for a boundary, saying no, or not supporting a negative direction.

• Client attempts to make contact with another team member and leave the professional, in question, out of the loop

The elimination threat reflects a gap in the current collaborative format, and necessitates the need to take steps to rectify this dilemma. Here are possible steps that I suggest each team needs to take:

  1. Include in the initial contract that the elimination of a team member needs to dealt with in front of the entire team.
  2. When there is a demand to eliminate a member of the team, the rest of the team addresses the reasons for this with the team member.
  3. If the team concludes that this move is not in the best interest of the divorce process, the team as a whole expresses this to the client or clients.
  4. If there is no satisfactory resolve from this encounter, then there are several options
    • Entire team chooses to drop out of the process.
    • Both coaches drop out
    • Both attorneys drop out
    • Continue on with a new configuration and arrangement with clients.
  5. Replacing the team member is only to be done if all the professionals involved feel comfortable with this, including the member who has been eliminated. Otherwise it sets a destructive precedent, and the clients feel that they control the structure.

The inclusion of these steps will greatly improve the power and the effectiveness of the collaborative process in dealing with this common elimination behavior stemming from high conflict clients.


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