Family Professional Support Through
the Separation/Divorce Process
Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
It is almost a given that people enter into co-habiting relationships, particularly
marriage expecting it will be long lasting, if not forever-lasting. Thus when
a breakdown occurs, there is at least upset, disappointment and disillusionment.
In view of same, some might argue that it would be of benefit to the parties,
subject to the separation or divorce to obtain at least emotional support to
facilitate the separation process.
Now imagine you are child whose parents are in the throws of a separation.
Children are not only subject to the same emotional upheaval, but also draw
their sense of security, safety, well-being and personal worth at the hands
of their parents. Regardless of the quality of parenting, to some degree or
other, from one or other parent, their needs are addressed. Separation/divorce
interrupts the provision of care and undermines stability, certainty and continuity
of relationships at times when the child’s cognitive capacity, by virtue
of age, may be unable to interpret events reasonable to the situation.
Notwithstanding the issues common to every separation/divorce, there are yet
other issues that heighten concern in terms of the outcome for the parties and
their children. In the presence of multiple concerns, the risk of poor outcomes
increases. Further, the actual concerns themselves must assessed in the context
of their intensity, frequency and duration.
The following concerns represent risk factors to parties subject to divorce.
The risks include anything from; contested divorce; to loss of relationships;
to the undermined development and success of children; to injury and death of
any family member(s). In the presence of any and particularly multiple or severe
concerns, the value of family professional support increases:
o Pre-existing mental disorder
o Criminal activity or history
o Overly passive, docile personality disposition
o Overly dominant, aggressive personality disposition
o History of parental domestic violence, child abuse, parental alcoholism (from
one’s family of origin when a child)
o Domestic violence, child abuse, alcoholism within current family
o Alcohol consumption greater than 6 standard beverages weekly or more than
5 standard beverages per occasion, at least once per month
o Recreational drug use/abuse
o Extra-marital affair
o Cold, uncommunicative behavior
o Conflicting religious beliefs
o Restrictive beliefs, social or religious practices
o Job loss(es)
o Learning disability (parent or child)
o Physical or developmental disability (parent or child)
o Any other special needs on the part of a child
At the very least, it is in a family’s best interest to obtain a consultation
from a person trained in assessing concerns in the context of separation and
divorce. The family professional consultant must meet with both parties, either
together or separately and the children, to interview and obtain data relative
to concerns and offer guidance to mitigate risks as assessed. Therein the consultant
may also offer guidance in order to meet the children’s ongoing needs
and relationships between the parents.