Parenting kids with autism and Asperger's can be challenging, and this is especially true for couples who are no longer married. In my last post, I touched on some information regarding divorce rates, which indicated that about 30% of families with autistic children are divorced, and inthe majority of those families, the child is living with only one parent.
It's a concern that so many children are growing up without the support of both parents and that many parents are trying to carry the load on their own. One way to ease the burden of divorce and single parenting on these families could be through the Collaborative Divorce process.
Today I'm interviewing JoAnn Rodrigues, MFT. JoAnn Rodrigues is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in San Ramon, California, as well as a Coach and Child Specialist for Collaborative Divorce. You can read more about her work on her website,http://www.joannrodriguesmft.com/.
Patricia Robinson: JoAnn, can you explain Collaborative Divorce?
JoAnn Rodrigues: Collaborative Divorce is an alternative to a traditionally litigated divorce. The process came about as a desire to help families navigate a difficult and often devastating event without adding more trauma. In this non-adversarial approach the couple agrees never to go to court. The family has a team of professionals: two attorneys, two
coaches, a child specialist and a financial specialist who have all been trained to help the family reach a settlement that takes into account the emotional and financial needs of all the family members.
The goals are to improve communication and co-parenting so that the family can reach a lasting settlement that preserves relationships rather than destroying them.
In collaborative practice the control over the process lies with the couple as opposed to the court.
This leads to more creativity and flexibility in all aspects of the settlement including parenting plans. This is especially important for families with special needs children as having that flexibility can greatly benefit their children.
Patricia Robinson: What do you see as some of the advantages to using this process?
JoAnn Rodrigues: The benefits to the family are evidenced in a reduced level of conflict, improved communication, co-parenting skills, and a better adjustment for the children. Since everyone's needs are taken into account no one leaves the process feeling like they got the short end of the stick, which only leads to continued resentment and sabotage. As
therapists we are often faced with the results of a "bad divorce" where the fighting never ends. No one benefits when that happens.
The financial cost when the fighting never ends can be enormous. In the collaborative process the couple has a greater initial output of money (retainers for the team members) but can save money in the long run by actively working in the team meetings to reach lasting agreements.
Patricia Robinson: Can you explain your role in the Collaborative Divorce process?
JoAnn Rodrigues: I have two separate roles in the collaborative process, one as a coach and one as a child specialist. I would act in only one role in each case. In my role as a coach I meet individually and in team meetings with one of the spouses. My task is to help that person identify their needs and goals as well their strengths and concerns to help support them through the process. It is different from therapy because I do not go into depth about their issues but instead help guide them and teach them skills when their issues are getting in the way of helping them achieve their goals. I do the same in the team meetings by monitoring the emotions and helping to keep the process on track. I also assist in developing a parenting plan based on the information received from the child specialist.
As a child specialist I am basically making sure that the child's voice is being heard. I am assessing the child or children's adjustment to the divorce. I am looking at what they need developmentally and what is helping and what is causing distress. I am a neutral person in the process sharing the information I have gained with the parents and the team.
Patricia Robinson: How do couples find a collaborative divorce team?
JoAnn Rodrigues: They can go to our local website, www.collaborativepracticeeastbay.com and click on team members. They can contact any member such as myself and that person will meet with them and make suggestions for the other team members based on their needs. For people reading this outside the Bay Area they can go to the international collaborative website at www.collaborativepractice.com
Patricia Robinson: Thanks JoAnn! I'm sure my readers will find this information helpful.
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.