Family Law

Relationship Matters: Should you hire a divorce coach?

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Divorce coaches don’t replace divorce attorneys, but they are designed to help clients handle everything surrounding the divorce, including offering emotional support and relationship advice, paperwork assistance and financial guidance. (Image from Shutterstock)

To say Christina Phinney felt overwhelmed when she was facing a divorce after 18 years of marriage would be an understatement.

“It was kind of a nightmare,” says Phinney of Miami.

She didn’t understand the process, couldn’t organize her thoughts, and had no idea where to start. Essentially, Phinney was flailing.

Phinney was asking her attorney for therapeutic advice, organizational advice and relationship advice—at hundreds of dollars per hour. And that’s when she learned about divorce coaches, a relatively new concept designed for people just like Phinney.

Divorce coaches don’t replace divorce attorneys, but they are designed to help clients handle everything surrounding the divorce, including offering emotional support and relationship advice, paperwork assistance and financial guidance. Divorce coaches come from all sorts of backgrounds—some legal, some therapeutical, some completely unrelated to the field—and some even have a divorce coach certification, though nothing is required to declare oneself a divorce coach.

It’s a relatively new concept that’s grown steadily in the last decade, according to the divorce coaches interviewed by the ABA Journal, adding to a cadre of growing grassroots support systems ranging from retreats to organizational services to meditative workshops for those contemplating and going through divorces.

Fees for divorce coaches range from $50 to $300 per hour depending on location and experience, but the divorce coaches say they can actually save their clients money because they tend to charge significantly less than attorneys.

Jennifer Warren Medwin, a Florida Supreme Court family mediator, certified marital mediator and co-parenting instructor, became a divorce coach in 2016 and obtained a divorce coach certification (these are typically six-week courses). She charges $200 to $250 per hour on helping her clients through the financial, legal and emotional aspects of their divorces.

“Divorce has many pinnacles,” Medwin explains. “It’s like having another job, especially if you have young children. Everyone could benefit from a divorce coach, whether from an emotional or organizational standpoint.”

But at a few hundred dollars per hour, is it feasible?

The case for a divorce coach

Medwin says adding a divorce coach to the team often lowers the total cost of the divorce because they will work with the client on how to efficiently communicate with their co-parent and attorney.

“We help them focus on the business side of the divorce: ‘How do you get across what you want to say within a 5-second framework?’” Medwin says.

Marc E. Fitzgerald, a family law attorney and co-managing partner at Casner & Edwards in Boston, says about a quarter of his clients work with or have worked with divorce coaches, and he often recommends that his clients use them.

When they do, he says, they can be a cost-effective, helpful and supporting resource—especially for those navigating the financial and technical complexities of the process.

Jacqueline Newman, the managing partner at Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein in New York, agrees. Newman says the more support that clients have during this time, the easier the process could be.

Divorce coaches, Newman says, are able to speak with people going through the process with empathy and compassion, and they can help them stay focused on the tasks at hand.

“Plus,” she says, “It is much less expensive to have someone call a divorce coach to complain about the other spouse’s behavior than to call the divorce attorney.”

Other attorneys say their clients haven’t worked with divorce coaches, but it’s not something they’d discourage.

Leigh Baseheart Kahn, a matrimonial and family law partner at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas in New York says, divorce coaches could be helpful for clients who need guidance and support going beyond the legal services, advice and protection an attorney can provide—and the expertise, analysis and advise that a financial expert can offer.

“Any number of times, I have had clients say to me things like, ‘I know you’re not a therapist, and that this isn’t the best use of your time,’ or ‘I know that you’re too expensive for me to be discussing this with, it’s not a legal issue, but I don’t have anyone else to talk to about it,’” Kahn says.

“For those clients, who want someone to help them with the big picture involving personal, emotional and practical plans, discussions and strategies, a divorce coach may be a helpful hire and could perhaps avoid the smattering of personal anecdotes and potentially unhelpful or even harmful advice that comes from surveying family, friends and acquaintances about their own divorce experiences,” she adds.

Phinney agrees, adding that her only regret that she has about hiring a divorce attorney is that she didn’t do it sooner.

Choosing a divorce coach

There are various professional and accredited-level training and certifications for divorce coaches, which tend to be relatively short online programs teaching perspective coaches everything from the intricacies of family court to managing expectations to co-parenting techniques.

You can also ask your divorce attorney for a divorce coach recommendation. Some, like Kristyn Carmichael, a family attorney, a professional mediator and a certified divorce financial analyst at Couples Solutions Center in Arizona, have various divorce concierge services available for clients.

Carmichael says she always suggests a divorce coach to anyone going through the process, though finding one who’s a good fit could be just as tricky as discovering the perfect therapist.

“I find that many people who are not over their own divorces become coaches, then feeding their own personal emotions and challenging experiences into those experiences of their clients, resulting in a very unhelpful coach,” Carmichael says. “But a trained coach, who understands the divorce process and supports their clients in moving forward toward a new life on their own, can be invaluable.”

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