According to many authorities, a divorce is both a legal and psychological process. Psychologists working with clients who are going through a divorce walk a fine line; they are called upon to help their clients make important life decisions during a legal process that will affect their future while, at the same time, the psychologist must avoid giving the client legal advice.
On the other hand, a divorce attorney is often faced with angry and sad clients whose emotional overload may be interfering with the ability to make sound legal decisions. But, the attorney too must be wary of stepping out of his/her role into that of a therapist.
The professional can help the client by working to ease the transition from being a married person to being a single person again. In order to do this effectively, it is helpful for the psychologist to know how the legal process works and what issues may be needed to be resolved in an effective manner.
The goal is for the professional to help the client make his/her own decisions on major issues such as payment or receipt of alimony, child custody and support, and the division of marital property; and, to figure out all of this at the same time as adjusting to a new situation at home. Each one of these hot button issues on its own can bring up deep underlying feelings.
Which parent should the children live with? Will the parents equally share physical custody of their children or not? How will each parent get to spend time with their children? Which parent has final decision-making authority over child care issues? What is the procedure for when there is a disagreement over the children?
Georgia family law courts encourage parents to work together to create a Parenting Plan, a document that is filed with the court. This plan lays out the visitation schedule for parenting time during the week, on week-ends, holidays and extended summer vacation.
The plan also spells out the responsibilities of each parent to their children, including who will pay for the children’s health coverage as well as for uncovered medical expenses. It can also prohibit a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend from spending the night when the children are present. By taking the focus away from the parent and putting it on the children for the long term, a divorcing client may be better able to achieve a successful life transition.
Division of assets and liabilities
Georgia is an equitable division state, which means the assets and liabilities are divided based on what is “fair” and “equitable,” not necessarily “equal.” Under certain circumstances, George case law finds that conduct can affect a property division, awarding one party a greater share than the other.
Psychologists can help their clients work toward a realistic division of property that both parties will live with and ultimately follow rather than disregard. It is best if the parties can reach their own agreement regarding their property division, but if they are unable to, the court is prepared to do it for them.
Alimony or spousal maintenance
The key to an alimony award is “one party’s need and the other party’s ability to pay.” This, not surprisingly, is traditionally a very contentious issue for the divorcing client if the parties are not able to work this out between themselves. Alimony, if paid at all, can be for a recipient’s lifetime, or it can be for a finite number of years. What is almost always a given is that it will end upon the remarriage of the recipient or upon the recipient cohabiting with a “live-in-lover,” a quasi spouse.
Psychologists and attorneys working together
In a divorce, a lawyer will give advice regarding the client’s rights and obligations under the law. In a divorce, a psychologist who has been made aware of the divorce process and the many nuanced issues the client must navigate, has a greater chance of guiding the client to a healthier, more satisfactory outcome
Research shows that when a divorcing couple is guided through the process to make decisions based on what is in the best interest of their children as well as in the best interest of each other, the emotional trauma of the process is lessened. Recovery and moving on with the single life is hastened and the former spouses increase the likelihood of their being able to maintain a workable post-divorce family for the benefit of all.