Divorce coach's top tips during a marriage break-up

Photo: File image
Photo: File image
Divorce coaches are becoming more prevalent in New Zealand, offering practical support on co-parenting and financial matters before the lawyers get involved.

New Zealand's first certified divorce coach Kimberlee Sweeney has been practising for nine years. She says help with communication, coaching and conflict management can ease an often painful process.

Sweeney joined Jesse Mulligan on RNZ's Afternoons to explain what a divorce coach does and offer some tips for making the process less overwhelming.

She said she was a trained collaborator.

"I can work alongside the lawyers, and they will often communicate with me about the client and the progress and how I can support the client outside of the legal appointments.

"Generally, most collaborative lawyers are really well versed in engaging the divorce coach in the process, because it helps the client be a better client as well, supporting them before, during and after those legal appointments and meetings."

Many clients contact her at the 'should I stay or should I go?' stage, she said.

"They're trying to figure out whether they want to stay in the relationship and make it work, or whether they're ready to leave. And they want to explore what both options look like and what they can consider in the decision making before they finally talk to their partner."

She encouraged people to explore every possible solution for saving a relationship, particularly with children involved.

"One of the biggest tips is, I think, for the sake of the children to say you tried your best, you did everything you could before you called it quits. And then if you are going to end the relationship, be mindful of the children in the process - you are still going to be in each other's lives, you're going to be parents for the rest of your children's lives.

"Be mindful of how you show up and communicate."

A divorce in New Zealand takes typically two years, but can drag on, she said.

"Often financial reasons can be a sticking point and can drag things out. Whether there's businesses involved or one partner earns a lot more than the other, those things can be quite scary, quite terrifying for some people.

"And splitting assets in half is always hard for any couple when you've worked hard to create what you have, so it's hard to walk away from what you've got."

Sweeney's tips

Communicate early

"Start communicating with your partner about how you feel - blindsiding them is not the best way to deal with it, because you're never going to get the best outcome then."

Use the funded parenting through separation programme

"I do advise all people separating with children to go and explore that. And if you are going to end up going through the mediation process or the court process in regards to custody and care of children, then it's a requirement of the court process and generally the mediation process."

Make a co-parenting plan

"If you're on the same page, and you're very amicable, then you can put one in place yourself, sit down together and do it. And a lot of my clients will do that together, because they have engaged in the coaching process to understand what's important for their family and for their children.

"If you're unable to do it together there are mediators and different parenting experts out there that can sit with you both and help mediate an amicable co-parenting agreement."

Consider 'bird nesting'

"Bird nesting [when the family home is maintained post-separation] in the early phases of the separation is how to cope better with the children getting used to the dynamic of one parent moving in and out before they end up living in two separate homes.

"Eventually, they do end up living in two separate homes with each parent, but in those early phases of everyone adjusting it's quite a nice way to do it. As long as there's some rules and boundaries in place, if at all."