Coping with Divorce:
Advice from Divorce Coach Cherie Morris
Cherie is a former attorney whose own divorce inspired her to become a parent coordinator and certified divorce coach. Cherie works with individuals and couples in every stage of divorce and co-parenting. As a divorce coach, Cherie is a true partner — making herself available to her clients by text message and helping them stay mindful and realistic in their approach to divorce.
Cherie was interviewed by Divorceify Co-founder Casey Shevin.
Casey Shevin: For those readers that have never heard of parent coordination, what is it exactly?
Cherie Morris: As a divorce coach I can assist individuals or couples in any stage of divorce — whether contemplating it, in the midst of litigation or experiencing post-divorce complications. In my role as a parent coordinator, I work with couples to resolve child-centered disputes. And the hope is to create a path of de-escalation and lower conflict going forward to ensure successful parenting after divorce.
Shevin: Cherie, you used to be a practicing attorney, correct?
Morris: That’s right. I practiced law for a long time and did a number of different kinds of law, but I never practiced family law. It was only my own divorce that introduced me to family law, which I thought could use professionals doing the kind of work I now do.
Shevin: What about your divorce experience made you think that someone going through a divorce needs more than just legal help?
Morris: My ex-husband is also a lawyer. Both of us are in, my opinion, intelligent, well-informed people who are able to analyze objective facts. I think the thing that got in the way during our divorce was my underestimation of the difficulty of two people coming together to work out the details of what had been a long-term marriage of about 18 years.
And it wasn’t just dividing property — which in many ways, although the term equitable division is confusing, can be fairly straightforward, we also have four children. Making decisions without conflict was a real obstacle.
I had a good lawyer, I had a good therapist (and I would recommend therapy to anyone getting a divorce, but especially if you have more than situational anxiety or depression) and I also had a superb financial person. However, what I was really missing was an objective thinking partner.
Sometimes the issues that come up aren’t legal ones, per se. But your family and friends begin to get exhausted, or maybe your divorce feels threatening to their own marriage.
I thought to myself, “You know, I’m sort of done practicing law. And I think that I think I have found another service that’s needed.” And I have never looked back. I’ve been a writer, I’ve been a lawyer. I’ve never had as much passion as I do about what I do now. And that’s amazing.
Shevin: What drives you as a divorce coach? What part of your work do you find most rewarding?
Morris: We are all unique, but people tend to feel that what they are going through no one else has experienced. And to those people, I say “I got you. I’m here. There is a universe of women, of men, of couples, who have experienced these extraordinary pain points before. And you can do this.”
We don’t talk about divorce in polite society. I take divorce out of the category of shame that so many people associate with it. I find it most rewarding when a client comes to me, tentatively, and perhaps full of guilt, shame, doubt, and then has a clarifying experience. Not because what I’ve done, but because I give them some tools to figure that out for themselves.
Shevin: How would you describe a coaching session to a potential client?
Morris: I can meet with clients in person at my office in Georgetown, or in Gaithersburg, Maryland. If we are working entirely remotely, then we will meet by FaceTime or Skype. In that first session, it’s really about me getting to know their journey, what brought them here and what they may need. In our next session, we start the real work, in the sense that then I am walking right next to them on whatever their journey is, to leave, to stay, to co-parent more effectively.
Shevin: How does your work with clients vary depending on their stage of divorce?
Morris: One of the things I do, if I’m working with someone in the beginning stages of divorce, or even if they’re sort of in the middle somewhere but may have lots of decision making to do, recommends a book I wrote called, Should I Stay or Should I Go? It’s a guide to categories of decision making in divorce. [Cherie’s book is available on Amazon HERE.] What this book does in very short order, is allow them to see what concrete decisional categories exist.
Shevin: Once you have helped your clients break their divorce down into categories of decisions that need to be made, how do you help them work their way through that list?
Morris: I’m a certified yoga teacher and I remind clients to be mindful in their approach. By being mindful, they allow themselves the freedom to not be consumed with this divorce. I counsel my clients to make a list — these are the three decisions they need to make this week, but they don’t need to spend all their time on those decisions. It’s very difficult to avoid being consumed by divorce, but it is also possible if there is someone helping you organize.
Shevin: Do you usually work with individuals or do you sometimes work with couples?
Morris: I do both. If I can get the couple to engage, even if one is at first reluctant, they will see that I am what I like to call omni-neutral. What that means is I won’t pretend that I don’t have a perspective, but I will share with both of you what that is. Often, I’m dealing only with one person and I only hear and see through their lens, and that’s okay and I do it all the time, but it is helpful when both people can sit and hear the other person’s perspective and then hear some feedback from someone like me who is a neutral party.
Shevin: What are some of the issues couples come to you to help them resolve?
Morris: Sometimes I’m wearing my coaching hat with couples and sometimes my parent coordination hat. When I’m working in the parent coordination role the couple has come to me because they have child-centric disputes. But couples come to me for a variety of coaching reasons too.
For example, one man called me and said, “I want a divorce and I want to tell my wife, but I don’t know how, and I would like to work together with you to do this as cooperatively as possible.” It turned out that she very much wanted the divorce, but there was a lot of conflict in their communication. So we worked on creating a new way to communicate, mostly by email.
Shevin: Do you help couples figure out how to tell their children about the divorce?
Morris: Yes. The approach is very different, depending on their child’s special needs, age, gender, their peer group. So I love knowing who their kids are and who they are before we approach that. My bias, if there is one, is that more information is better, and that doesn’t mean that you say that “I’m leaving because daddy has cheated a thousand times and I can’t tolerate it anymore.” But rather, “Here’s what’s happening — daddy and I are now living separately, but you will always be taken care of,” all said in age-appropriate terms.
In a practical sense, often what kids will want to know is: “How will my life change? Can I still play with my best friend Susie down the street when I’m at mom’s house? And will you get me there? Or how will I get that homework help after school if I have to ride the bus now?” So, meeting them in a very practical way where they are, depending upon their age, seems to be the key.
I’m a big proponent of doing it together and just keeping it as natural as possible. Answer the questions the kids ask at a level that they can understand. Then later, as they get more mature and as they become teenagers, more information may be appropriate.
Shevin: How is working with a coach different than working with a therapist?
Morris: I’m likely to be the most available professional in their divorce. My clients can text me, and that’s a big difference in having a divorce coach; because you know how it is when you sit down with your therapist, and then you go away and you have a hot mess of a week, and then you have to wait two more weeks to see her or him. My client’s process with me in real time while they are feeling frustrated, rather than escalate with their spouse. Sometimes that is enough to shift the whole dynamic for the family.
I make myself available in short order to my clients. I meet them where they are in a divorce, taking away the shame and helping them going forward into the world. My company is called Life Transitions Matter and for me, divorce is just that, another life transition. And if we can figure out how to do it well, it can change our children’s lives and our lives for the better.