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NICHE MARKETING
‘Collaborative divorce’ can be a very lucrative specialty

Traditionally, when a troubled couple sought a therapist, the primary goal was saving the marriage. But increasingly, new opportunities are opening for therapists who can help bring a marriage to a (relatively) peaceful end.

And we’re not talking about simple mediation here. In some jurisdictions, couples are required to sit with a mediator for a session or two before they’re permitted to go to court. Often, they’re not very motivated--only showing up because they have to.

Collaborative divorce is different. The first clinician we speak to in this report works with couples who are quite motivated. They may have complicated issues--and often a lot of money to divvy up. For them, going through the courts would be tremendously expensive. As a result, they are willing to participate in a collaborative process which is merely very expensive. The second clinician has a more middle class clientele and a short-term approach--but still manages to bill considerably above his usual rate.

l Jann Glasser runs a solo therapy practice in Orange County, CA, and is part of a specialized collaborative divorce team. The structure of these teams is similar throughout the country, but there are variations from state to state. In California, each party has its own attorney and therapist-coach, but they share a financial specialist. If there are children involved, there’s also a child specialist.

About 25% of Glasser’s practice is collaborative divorce, and she always plays the role of the divorce coach. She doesn’t take the child specialist role herself, but tells us that colleagues of hers may alternate as coach or child specialist in different cases.

Couples enter the collaborative divorce process in a couple of different ways. Sometimes they’re involved in couples therapy, and when that process breaks down the therapist refers them to a collaborative divorce coach. In other cases, couples are already preparing to divorce and are referred by their attorneys.

Initially, says Glasser, the attorneys and coaches meet separately with their clients. The job of the coach, she says, is to try to short-circuit conflicts so they can agree to disagree.

"I like to use the term air traffic controller," Glasser says. "We re-direct the process." Meeting with the full team--attorneys, coaches, and sometimes the financial and/or child specialists--"helps them cut to the nitty gritty," Glasser says. In California, a community property state, there are personal funds and real estate to split, and sometimes businesses to divide.

How long do these cases last? "It depends on the degree of communication and cooperation between the couple...Everyone has the same issues in California. You’ve got to divide community property, you’ve got to deal with support, parenting, and time-sharing. It doesn’t necessarily relate to how much money people have. I had one couple who had to divide up four million dollars and they did it in two hours. They weren’t at each other’s throats.

"On the other hand, I finished a case in September that took us a year. There was a business to be evaluated, and the wife was making allegations that the husband was being sexually inappropriate with the kids. There was nothing to it, but we had to deal with it."          

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  Although Glasser does this work as part of a group called "Collaborative Divorce Solutions Orange County" (www.cdsoc.com)--the team members do their own billing.

Attorneys usually get a $5,000 retainer; financial specialists, $2,500 to $5,000; and therapist-coaches, $1,200 to $1,500. Glasser charges $150 per hour--the same as her therapy rate. But she has colleagues who get $200.

"It can be lucrative, depending on the case," she says. "A short one? No, that’s not necessarily lucrative. But I had a case that lasted a year that helped pay for my daughter’s wedding."

Glasser’s group makes a point of doing community presentations to promote their services. They are considering an ad campaign in Orange County magazine but haven’t designed it yet. They’re also looking at highway billboards. "You get big exposure that way."

l In Milwaukee, Darrell Hischke also does collaborative divorce with a team approach--but he doesn’t always work with the same team. The makeup changes from case to case, and Hischke is hired on an individual basis by the couple. He almost always works as the husband’s coach.

"I find that I connect better with the men," says Hischke. "It’s not written in stone, but that’s usually the way we do it.

"They need to be able to make a decision together. I usually tell the husband, ‘Look, when she says those things you don’t like, you need to take a deep breath, keep calm, and respond to her with your best foot forward--in a reasonable manner.’ The expectation is that the other coach will talk to the wife," and do the same job for her.

Hischke confirms that in most divorces, the big fights are over kids and money. But there are other complications. For example, in one recent case, one spouse thought the other drank too much. Child safety issues were spelled out in minute detail.

Working in Milwaukee rather than super-rich Newport Beach, CA, like Jann Glasser, Hischke charges a retainer of $500 and bills at $125 per hour. "I figure about four hours covers it on average. They’ll meet with me for an hour, and then we’ll have a four-way meeting for two hours (with the other spouse and spouse’s coach). Then I’ll talk to the attorneys to help them figure out how they can make additional meetings go smoothly."

Hischke started training for collaborative divorce in 2002, and found himself attending workshops with attorneys. It became the start of an instant referral base. Hischke practices with his wife, who is also a therapist and collaborative divorce coach. They continue draw many of their referrals from attorneys they’ve met at those collaborative divorce trainings.

"A couple will go to an attorney, become interested in the process, and he’ll give them a list of coaches he’s worked with." And his web site, www.mayfaircdc.com, is increasingly important as well.

Contacts: 1) Jann Glasser, 901 Dove St., Ste. 299, Newport Beach, CA 92660-3036, (949)752-2727, www.glasserandassociates.com; 2) Darrell Hischke, Mayfair Collaborative Divorce Coaches, 2645 N. Mayfair Rd, #120, Wauwatosa, WI 53226, (414)774-4288, www.mayfaircdc.com.

 

 

 

 

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