Psychologist First, Then a Lawyer

By Sue Pascoe

You and your spouse are divorcing. The first thing you need to do is get the best divorce attorney possible and make sure your husband/wife pays for every slight that occurred during your marriage—and in a big way.
Actually, experts say that would be the worst thing to do, especially if children are involved.

“The real polarization starts with the attorney,” said Dr. Jane Shatz, who spoke to the Pacific Palisades Rotary Club in August. “The attorney wants to ‘win,’ but that might not be in the best interest of the children.”

A better first choice, if you’re thinking of divorcing, might be to consult a psychologist who specializes in children and divorce.

“Healthy parents know they need to mediate, it’s less polarizing for kids,” Shatz said, noting that statistically 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. This means a lot of people and their children will face this lifestyle impact.

Dr. Jane Shatz spoke to the Rotary Club about taking care of children during divorce.

A Palisades resident, Shatz is a clinical and forensic psychologist in family law, with an office in the 881 Alma Real building. Often, she is called by the courts to help determine visitation rights.

The psychologist explained that a divorce is like a death because it involves the loss of friends, the loss of income and loss of another family.

“Couples are in a stage of grief,” she said. “It’s hard for them to understand that their children are going through the same grieving process.”

Shatz estimated that if the divorce goes through parents’ hands or mediation, the adjustment for kids is about 90 percent. But “putting kids in the middle [in a hotly contested divorce], makes the adjustment worse. The key for a child’s adjustment is the relationship between the parents, no matter how difficult.”

One divorce court judge told Shatz: “This is when we see good people at their very worst,” in contrast to criminal law cases where “We see bad people at their very best.” In difficult cases, Shatz receives a mental-health referral from a court. She serves as a consultant to attorneys and litigants, and offers conjoint therapy with parents, and with parents and children. (Conjoint therapy involves two or more clients who are seen together in a therapy session.)

“I work with severely alienated children,” Shatz said, noting that some of the cases she has been given involve parents who are extremely bitter or even vindictive towards one another. “I go the home and have lunch or dinner with the children. I have them give me a tour of the home. I see their rooms.” Once she’s familiar with the home environment and has met with the kids on their home turf, Shatz then sees them in her office. The next step is for her to read the legal pleadings, after which she writes a report to the court, generally about 100 pages. “The judge gives a lot of weight to my recommendations,” she said.

But, if she had a preference, “I love mediation,” Shatz said. “I love working with parents in conflict. I believe that parents want to co-parent and talk, but don’t have the skills.”

She said she tells parents, “We don’t know how to be married,” and “We don’t know how to be divorced.” Her job is to make sure that the kids don’t suffer because of the parents’ inability to put their children first.

For more information, visit Shatz’s website, email or call (310) 288-0264.

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