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Divorce Professionals: Signs Your Client Needs Help

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

You’re sitting down with a new prospect. She and her husband want to divorce. You talk to her about procedures, fees, and assets.

She seems calm, although a little distressed. Well, who wouldn’t be? Most of your clients are distressed about getting a divorce. Her reactions aren't any different than anyone else's. She retains you, and you start the paperwork.

You don’t think she needs any help - I mean, after all, she wasn’t freaking out, or in tears, or ranting and raving, right? She’ll be fine.

But she isn’t OK. Everything in her world is changing. The rug has been pulled out from underneath her, and her world tossed into a Yahtzee cup and thrown into the air. The emotional roller coaster is now leaving the station! Even if she doesn’t display it, her thoughts are swirling around as though they had been thrown into a blender.

Marriage is one of the most intense, powerful attachments we can have to another human being. Your spouse has seen you at your best, and also at your worst. They know you better than anyone one else. And you know them better than anyone else. This is someone with whom you’ve shared your deepest, darkest feelings, and also the best, happiest moments.

When that bond gets broken, the psychological result is intense. It’s truly an emotional rollercoaster. One minute you’re calm and taking care of business, and the next you’re paralyzed, lying in bed, feeling rejected, overwhelmed, or like a failure.

This is normal for everyone. Even if you’re the one who wants the divorce, the one who started the action, the one who left, you’re going to experience that emotional pain. It’s a huge change in your daily life, in what’s familiar, that’s tied to your deepest emotions. There is going to be a grief response that some folks are better prepared to handle than others.

How do you know which client needs to be referred to a coach or a therapist? Let's look at some signs that your client might be having trouble managing their distress:

  • Excessive irritation

  • Unreasonable anger or vindictiveness toward spouse

  • Overly emotional - cries or blows up at the smallest things

  • Delays providing necessary documents

  • Unrealistic fears about the future

  • Unwilling to compromise

  • Unable to make decision

  • Makes unreasonable demands

  • Constant complaining about spouse’s actions

  • Incessant phone calls over issues that aren’t urgent or important

When a client isn’t processing their emotions in a healthy way, your life is going to become more difficult. They aren’t going to be prepared to make intelligent, reasonable decisions about negotiations. It’s going to feel like you’re pulling teeth to get copies of all the documents you need. They may end up leaving money on the table, not making a reasonable custody agreement, or get the maintenance they need because they’re emotionally paralyzed.

You understand that the decisions they make at this time are going to impact them and their children for years to come, but they don’t if they’re feeling overwhelmed. Your client just wants to stop hurting and make it all go away. You can be the most compassionate and caring divorce professional on the planet, but you’re not going to be able to soothe your client and enable them to make intelligent decisions during such an emotionally turbulent time.

How much different would your life be if your clients had the tools they needed to handle their overwhelming emotions? How much easier would each case become? Your clients will not only get through their divorce with fewer emotional scars, but also get better results.

The short answer to this problem is that every client needs to be evaluated.

Not everyone needs coaching or therapy. You’re an expert at the law, or finances, or investigations, or real estate. You weren’t trained to hand-hold or talk them through their fears. And you're probably not trained to evaluate whether or not they need help.

The best divorce model is having a team to manage each aspect of a complicated legal issue. Having an attorney or mediator, a CDFA, real estate agent, and possibly a forensic accountant or a private investigator makes the entire process go more smoothly and efficiently. Another important member of the team is a coach.

Why a coach? Well, therapists usually work on the past. How did your client get here? Where did all these emotions come from? What caused the marriage to fail? While they work with clients on processing uncomfortable emotions, that takes time. Your client needs tools they can use right now.

They're overcoming their grief. They need skills to stay calm when negotiating. They need to learn how to get through tough days in one piece, without falling apart or becoming paralyzed, so they can take care of their kids, their job, and other responsibilities. That's what coaches do - provide their clients with the tools they need for their situation. Having a coach as part of your team will not only make your life easier, but also result in better results for the client.

I have a free resource you can give your clients to get started with the process of managing the stress of divorce. It's called, “Emotional First Aid Kit: How to Get Through Tough Days in One Piece.”

It's an online class that gives them tools to stay calm in the moment, and includes not only an instructional video, worksheet, and Divorce Preparation Checklist, but also a 1:1 Divorce Damage Assessment with me.

Susan Petang is a Certified Life Coach specializing in the stress of divorce, author of two books, and member of the National Association of Divorce Professionals. You can learn more about her at


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