What is the role of a Collaborative Family Professional?

Q&A with Collaborative Divorce Toronto Member Brynie Lacob

When a couple separates, oftentimes, they believe that they each need to get a lawyer and fight it out in court. It will be ugly. It will be expensive. It will be exhausting and time-consuming. Of course, divorce is always difficult, but a Collaborative Divorce takes a very different approach. One of the ways that the Collaborative method is different is that it can involve more professionals than simply lawyers and include individuals equipped to help families navigate this transition. As anyone who has divorced knows, splitting assets and negotiating custody of children are only two of the many things that happen in a divorce and having specialists in finance or family and mental health can be a huge help.

Today, we’d like to talk a little more about how a family professional can function on a Collaborative team and help families work towards a peaceful and productive future. We enlisted the help of Brynie Lacob, a Collaborative Family Professional and one of our members at Collaborative Divorce Toronto to answer some of the most common questions people have about the role of a family professional on a Collaborative team.

What is a Collaborative Family Professional?

A Collaborative Professional is often a therapist, social worker, counselor or mental health professional who helps support families through the emotions that come with a divorce. Often, the decisions made during a divorce have emotions at their core and a family professional is able to use their training to help families make sense of why they feel the way that they do and then make decisions about the future.

How is a Collaborative team assembled?

Lawyers tend to assemble the Collaborative team and I get brought in for a variety of reasons (and in a variety of ways). Some lawyers like to set up a full team right at the start, especially if there are children involved and emotions are running high. Others bring me in later in the process when an issue is being addressed that may benefit from a different approach.

Can you give us an example of how that might happen?

Recently I had a case where the family was struggling with how to handle the family pet. Pets can be an emotional issue and I was able to meet with both the couple and the children to find an arrangement and schedule that worked for everyone. Every family has different issues that bring up strong emotions and Collaborative Practice enables these needs to be met.

Are family professionals present every time there is a collaborative meeting?

Each case is different and each family has different needs. Occasionally, I’m a part of team meetings, but most of the time, I work individually with the couple or family and report back to the lawyers with any decisions the clients come to. This team approach really helps to give families the kind of support they need during specific conversations.

How would you describe the role of a family professional in a Collaborative Divorce?

The main difference between Collaborative Divorce and traditional litigation is that the separating couple works together to come to resolutions that best suit their families and maintain ownership over those decisions. Family professionals can often help to facilitate those conversations. We can also serve as emotional support for the family, especially if children are involved. Depending on the family’s situation, family professionals can also act as the Collaborative team leader.

Are there specific families you feel can benefit from a family professional (although, we certainly believe that all can!)?

When there are children involved, I find that I am a non-threatening “safe” place for them to lean on, which can be incredibly important, especially during their transition. As a trained therapist, there are times when I can help de-escalate the emotion in meetings and address the underlying issues involved. This often leads to creative solutions to legal issues and it becomes interest-based negotiation.

Does having a family professional involved cost more?

Often, no! Sometimes, the cost of a family professional is covered by individuals’ medical benefits plans, but even if it isn’t, family professionals’ fees are often less than legal fees and because we regularly meet with clients alone and relay decisions to the lawyers, our clients can require less time with their lawyers.

Why did you choose to practice in a Collaborative environment?

Having been through my own divorce 22 years ago and working in the field for 30 years, I have witnessed the destruction a divorce can have on people. I wanted to find a process that resonated with my beliefs and protected the integrity of people. Collaborative Law has the ability to do this.

Read more about the Collaborative Divorce Process

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