If you’ve seen the new Golden Globe–nominated movie Marriage Story on Netflix, then you likely came away from it knowing three things for certain:
(1) The movie, starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, should have been called Divorce Story. (2) Divorce can be brutal, even for couples who aim to do it amicably. (3) Lawyers make everything worse.
Of course, the film offers just one perspective. Not all uncoupling couples will find their well-intentioned plans of a congenial split dragged down into the mud by ruthless attorneys happy to see them skewering one another’s characters in court.
But amid all the existential upheaval that comes from a marriage cracking apart, it does seem like handing over one’s precarious financial and emotional fates to a professional who benefits personally from litigation is an even worse idea than … well, than marrying that douche in the first place.
And that’s where the Divorce Coach comes in. The latest addition to the booming Coaching oeuvre, divorce coaches have sprung up to support individuals (not couples) who are running the long, painful, and often quite complicated marriage-dissolution gauntlet. They serve as sounding boards and strategizers to help overwhelmed clients navigate the process of divorce from deciding whether to even get one all the way through building a new post-divorce relationship with their exes.
“This is a field that’s exploding right now,” says Kate Anthony, a divorce coach based in Los Angeles. “I think word is out that the litigation system is pretty screwed up, and overwhelmingly, people are seeing the need for the psycho-emotional support a divorce coach gives.”
The first known “divorce coach” was a New York attorney named Kim Lurie, who coined the term in the ’90s. But the concept has come into its own in the past decade, with a College for Divorce Coaching (CDC) providing training and certification in Florida, and the American Bar Association recognizing the field.
It’s a funny concept to me, the idea of a “coach” — typically someone who helps people do things — applied to the very deliberate undoing of a thing: helping someone develop while helping something dissolve. But my friends who are divorced say they wish they’d had such a thing when they were trudging through the process.
“Had I known of a divorce coach,” says one mom I know, who divorced when she had two kids under age 5, “I would have gladly hired one to help me with all that I had to learn on my own — mostly the hard way.”
“I would have had a much different outcome,” laments another mom of two, who says she relied too heavily on an attorney who didn’t have her best interests in mind.
Kate Anthony, who is divorced and has been doing this work for 10 years, says that while divorce coaches can’t offer legal advice per se, they can help with organization, communication, and co-parenting strategies, and even managing emotional aspects.
“Attorneys and mediators are recommending us more than ever now,” she says. “Divorce attorneys (the good ones) are referring out to us because they realize they’re the most unqualified and most expensive therapists/coaches out there, and they don’t want to spend time in their practices dealing with this stuff.”
So how is a divorce coach different from, say, a really kick-ass friend?
“Just no,” Kate says. “It’s not your friends’ job, and it’s not their expertise. If you want to keep your friends, please don’t use them in this capacity!”
That said, some divorce coaches make themselves available like a friend would. One in Montecito, who is also an attorney, is available around the clock, including for “in-the-moment text messaging when you need it.” She charges $250 per hour.
CDC says the average cost of a coach is $100-$150 per hour, which, while significantly less than lawyer fees, ain’t cheap. But plenty of folks are willing to pony up the cash for the sanity, and even comfort, they hope divorce coaches will inject into an otherwise distressing (and already budget-draining) situation.
Just ask Kate, who’s so busy with work she hasn’t found the time — or energy — to watch Marriage Story yet. “I was going to last night,” she confessed, “but fell asleep. ARG!”
Starshine Roshell is the author of Lather, Rage, Repeat.