Kurt Chacon | Does Your Client Need a Divorce Coach?

Today, on the Texas Family Law Insiders Podcast, we welcome Kurt Chacon. Kurt is a native Texan, a University of Texas School of Law graduate, a collaborative divorce attorney and divorce coach.

As both a child of divorce and a parent of divorce, Kurt has seen divorce in from every possible angle. This perspective is why his goal is always to mitigate the effects of divorce on children. We sit down with him today to learn more about the four points of entry for a divorce coach, as well as:

  • The process of becoming a divorce coach
  • A divorce coach’s job
  • The dynamics of the divorce coach and the attorney-client relationship
  • And more

Mentioned in this episode:


Kurt Chacon: People feel like they are overwhelmed, confused, and in the dark, they’re not going to make a decision. As a matter of fact, they’re going to push back hard.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Texas Family Law Insiders Podcast, your source for the latest news and trends in family law in the state of Texas. Now, here’s your host, Attorney Holly Draper.

Holly Draper: We’re excited to welcome Kurt Chacon today to the Texas Family Law Insiders Podcast. Kurt is a collaborative divorce attorney and divorce coach in Dallas. He’s a child of divorce, a parent of divorce, and has seen divorce from every possible way. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Kurt: Hey, I’m glad to be here with you and talk about whatever, you know, whatever we can in the time we have.

Holly: Alright, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background.

Kurt: I’m a native Texan. I come from Southeast Texas, a small town called Groves. It’s down by Beaumont Port Arthur, kind of in the corner of their upper Texas coast. And I went to law school at the University of Texas. I graduated a long, long time ago. I mean, we used oil lamps to study. A feather plume. No, I graduated in 82, and I started my career in personal injury, doing insurance defense in Galveston and then I moved to back to the Beaumont Port Arthur area and, and practiced there for a couple of years at a plaintiff’s firm. And then I came to Dallas and worked here at a plaintiff’s firm for a while. And then I’ve been on my own ever since.

Holly: So how did you make the transition to family law?

Kurt: Well, my divorce and what you talked about earlier, when you read the intro, being a child of divorce, a parent of divorce, I’ve seen divorce from every angle. And that’s not necessarily the greatest thing in the world. But I think it gives me perspective that maybe other people don’t with regard to the effect that divorce can have. The reason that I chose to get into family law specifically get into Collaborative Law is to help parents mitigate the effect of divorce on children, because my parents divorce really affected me in a negative way going forward for the rest of my life with with consequences and repercussions that I don’t think my parents could have foreseen even if they did have the necessary emotional skills to do a better job of divorcing than they did, if that makes sense.

Holly: Yeah, absolutely. So you’re also a divorce coach, right?

Kurt: Yes.

Holly: So can you explain exactly what that is?

Kurt: Right. Um, you know, one of the things that I learned when I undertook divorce coaching was that a divorce coach has a role. But it’s a lot different than maybe some of the other roles. You know, even though I am an attorney, most of those divorce coaches are not attorneys. So they don’t really give legal advice, what they do. And if I can sum it up as take the client, from the story of divorce, to the business of divorce. I think you would agree with me that a lot of people getting a divorce are very emotional. It is an emotional time, there are so many things going through their head, I mean, they’re worried about the future, they’re worried about their kids, they’re worried about money.

And to be honest, they’re worried about if they’re going to find somebody who’s going to love them again, or if they’re going to be in a relationship again, all that comes. And sometimes they are not necessarily prepared to enter the divorce process. As most people enter it into litigation, even into collaborative, a lot of people are not ready. And so helping get that client from the story to business, the way that I coined as a phrase, I call it the credible client, trying to get the client to the point where the lawyer and the client can work together and the client is credibly participating in the process, helping their attorney understanding what the attorney is trying to tell them and making sound decisions that are not overly emotional or based on past resentments or anger if you could, if that makes sense.

Holly: Absolutely. And that’s something I try and focus on a lot in my practice of were let’s not look backwards. Let’s look forwards. Yeah, and what’s going to put you and your kids in the best position to go forward?

Kurt: Yes, I like to tell people that having your soon to be ex spouse’s head served up on a platter is not one of the remedies contemplated by the family code much as he would like it to be I’m sorry if you can find it in there show it to me, but until then we’re not going to ask you that.

Holly: So what was the divorce coach different from a lawyer and the work they do with clients?

Kurt: Well, and and let’s just expand on that that the divorce coach tries to get through the story. And it’s their job to work with the client to get through the story. Not all lawyers or qualified, prepared and have the time to do that with a client. And they’re just not ready for that. That’s not what they do. They aren’t trained in that. And so I think a divorce coach has four points of entry in the process one, should I or shouldn’t I, most lawyers don’t delve into that. And they don’t sit down with a client over a period of weeks or months and work through that to in order to determine whether or not getting a divorce or staying in the marriage is the wrong side what they do.

And that’s all that’s very expensive to get a lawyer to do that. As opposed to a divorce coach, right. And also, now you have some people who get hit with divorce, one day, their spouse comes in and says, I want a divorce and next thing, you know, boom, they’re served with papers, or they’re emailed papers from opposing counsel. That’s another entry point for divorce lawyers, and excuse me, divorce coaches. And sometimes people just need to calm down and step away from the emotions that getting a lawyer involved, getting ambushed by it, stepping back and taking a breath, not being overly emotional, not overreacting. That’s another entry point.

And again, most don’t deal with that. That’s not what they’re trained to do. I don’t know about you, but they didn’t teach me any of that in law school. And I still don’t think they teach that in law school. And that’s not to knock lawyers. There is a gap sometimes, as you know. And then of course, there’s opportunities when clients get stuck in divorce, you know, the litigation seems to have stopped nobody’s budging. Sometimes the divorce coach can get in there and really root out what the client really wants. And maybe, hopefully, to communicate that with the lawyer. As you know, sometimes clients begin to feel like their own lawyer is against them, simply lawyer has to say, look, we can’t do that, or I don’t think that’s a good idea. Sometimes, a divorce coach can get in there and help the client, see what the lawyer is really there to do, and help open up more communication between the two.

Because it’s been my experience as a divorce coach that sometimes clients really don’t understand the process at a level they need to. And again, sometimes lawyers can’t really explain that, as well as somebody outside the process. I don’t ask about the past, either. I don’t ask why that’s outside them. I, you know, I, I don’t do that I help the client, get rid of the story, get to the facts, get the right advice, make a plan on what they’re gonna do, and keep them moving forward in that. And I hope as a lawyer who’s represented people in divorce, that I can help the lawyer help the client by making the client, it easier to communicate and deal more with the facts in the business.

Holly: That’s one of the things as a lawyer, I generally don’t like it when I hear that clients are getting advice from somebody else. So how can lawyers feel comfortable and that having a divorce coach involved in the process is a good thing, and not somebody who’s going to be contradicting what the lawyer is trying to do?

Kurt: For me, I have always said, ask your lawyer about that. I’m not going to give you advice. Here are some questions to ask if you are confused. Sit down with your lawyer. Yes, it’s going to cost you money. That’s what you’re paying for. When you sit down and you ask questions. That’s exactly what you’re paying them for more so than anything else, so that you can understand the process. Ask the lawyer if there’s something that can be done about this or ask the lawyer their advice about that. Make write down your questions.

So that way, you’re not spending a lot of time below. I mean, you know, this, sometimes we step back, as lawyers, it’s hard to imagine that our clients are confused, but they are in many times confused. And if I may throw a little vignette out there, in the process of getting certified. One of the people that were was that was presenting to us talked about how they had a client who was going down for a custody hearing and they were free by this custody hearing. Well, after the coach dug around, they found out that this client experience with the legal system, if you went to court and lost, you went to jail. They thought if they literally thought if they lost this custody hearing, they not only wasn’t weren’t going to get custody, they’re going to jail.

Okay, and sometimes the clients and as a lawyer, I scratch my head and go, how would you get that idea? And my job is to just take them to their lawyer and get the answer from their lawyer. Not me. I if I I don’t want to do that. That’s not what I do. I don’t know the answer to your question, if somebody would feel comfortable, they just know that I’m never going to work against the lawyer because I understand how hard the job is.

Holly: So you mentioned a little bit ago about getting certified. What is involved with becoming a divorce coach.

Kurt: There are any number of divorce certifications out there, I took the Certified Divorce Coaches from a group out in Florida. And it was five to six hours a week of online presentations, and offline calls, because we had cross coaching practice, and stuff like that. And that went on for 20 weeks. So I ended up investing on what 20 times five is 100 hours. And you take one module was just about coaching, and the concept of coaching and best practices and how just to coach people, then there was another segment of coaching people through divorce and the specific things that a client might experience going through the divorce process, and understanding that and trying to mesh the two together. That’s what I did. There are other places out there that are not that extensive.

Holly: What would you like family lawyers to understand about divorce coaches.

Kurt: From my perspective, is I want to give you, the lawyer, a client, who is going to make sound decisions, and who is going to communicate with you to respond to you, hopefully, listen to the advice you give and consider it, do the things necessary to move your case forward, you know, get the documents, fill out the forms, whatever it might be, and present themselves as willing to consider settlement options as well as to make offers of settlement options. And to give them serious consideration. I want to get clients out of the the my way or the highway, divorce a negotiation styles, I want to try and get my client away from past resentments trying to make the divorce about payback.

I want to try and get my client out of a situation where they need certainty going forward. Because as we know, as lawyers that the deal that you do, okay, that’s done that day, who knows what’s going to happen the next day. There is no way to predict what’s going to happen in the process and family code. Do not guarantee that everything is going to be great once you do this, right. If I can do that, I can set a lawyer up for a good resolution for the client based on the facts, and hopefully have somebody who walks away, nobody’s happy about getting a divorce. And nobody’s really happy about paying a divorce lawyer. But say my lawyer was fair and we work together well, and I would refer somebody else to them that that and have the client walk away, feeling that they made a good decision. Well, that’d be great.

Holly: So are there certain things as attorneys we should be looking for, where maybe we should be referring this person to a divorce coach, or we should be giving it as an option to them.

Kurt: Like I said, when somebody is my way, or the highway negotiation style, somebody who refuses to get the right resources. Lawyer might say we need this or we need that you need to consider getting this there that and they don’t. The throwing in the towel. And there is some value in the I just want it to be over. But that’s a place that’s a big mistake that some people make is throwing in the towel. Also want, like I said, wanting guarantees and certainty. A big one is betting on another relationship. Yikes. When somebody’s talking about getting married, and they’re not even, you know, past mediation in their current divorce, that should be a red flag. And finally, and also losing sight of the fact that the client is ultimately the person steering the vehicle.

Sometimes clients abdicate that responsibility, because they don’t want to, they want to hand you or me this huge box of problems and they want you to solve them. And then of course, when you solve them, and then they don’t like it, they want to blame you, but they weren’t a full participant in helping you solve them. So I don’t know how that breaks out. But those are just some things. And if I might I just want to throw this in the situation, or excuse me into the into the mix is that as a lawyer, I understand certain decision points that come up in litigation and clients are nervous, right. The first hearing, maybe a deposition. Producing all kinds of financial documents, some sort of study or or intervention in order to determine custody, right?

Any of those things clients can freak out about. And as a divorce coach, I can also help in getting the client calmed down and prepared and ready to talk with you. And you tell them what you need from them. And and they understand this as part of the process. You’re there to help them you’re there to protect them. You’re there to do what you can. So they show up and go, Okay, I don’t really necessarily want to be here, but I’m all in Holly. I’m ready for today. And they’re not flipped out.

Holly: I can think of several times where perhaps the person on the other side needed a divorce coach, because we’re getting such resistance and unreasonableness, from the person on the other side.

Kurt: And, that’s true. That’s just one thing out of many that affect the divorce is the preparedness of the other side, okay. And sometimes that’s where we’re stuck. Our sides reasonable. They’re not.

Holly: Yeah, I always tell clients that almost the vast majority of cases of settle and the ones that don’t speak are because somebody is being unreasonable.

Kurt: Yes, exactly. Like you, like you pointed out virtually all of them. And a lot of times for me, I would tell my client, okay, we’re going to do better that on our worst day in court. So they haven’t given us anything to lose at this point. Right.

Holly: Right. So how do you fit in as compared to a therapist or mental health professional, and a lot of attorneys, we think we’re not therapists, you need to go talk to somebody else.

Kurt: I don’t ask why in the area of why do you feel that way? Don’t care about the past. Okay. A lot of times therapists really delve into the why and really delve into the past don’t do that. Of course, a lot of times you can’t help but hear about it. Because your clients tied up in the story, right? How often have you started to talk to somebody at a at a consultation about their divorce, and you go, oh, my God, we’re back. We’re still in the 70s. With regard to what kind of want to get more till today in the situation. But that is much different than the therapist and I don’t want to solve, I can’t solve their problems and don’t try and solve any emotional problems. I just hopefully, aid in making them credible enough to complete the process. And if they want to go back and have a complete meltdown after that, well, that’s a separate issue.

Holly: We often have a lot of clients in divorces who have been not involved at all in the finances, or they’ve been completely in the dark about the finances. And they’re going to have to control their finances after they get divorced, is that something a divorce coach helps them navigate?

Kurt: How can I say this, you have to have a conversation with a client about that, because that’s a big thing. And that circles back around to wanting certainty, right. And sometimes people want, they want something to family code’s, not going to give them Be that as it may, I have helped people assemble the necessary documents, and help them create a plan by which they’re going to, I leave it to the lawyer to determine whether or not their client needs education, in financial matters, because one of the things that I take from Collaborative Law in the process, we have a financial professional and that from neutral, and that neutral, is there to help either one of the clients raise their level of financial knowledge to allow them to make decisions, because you and I both know, and people feel like they are overwhelmed, confused.

And in the dark, they’re not going to make a decision. As a matter of fact, they’re going to push back hard. And so raising the level of knowledge, as you said, a lot of times one of them is not financially savvy, can’t hear that in six months, but you can bring them up to a level about the issues on the table that allow them to go, oh, I understand that this asset over here is different from that one, even though they’re valued the same. They’re very different when it comes to the consequences. I try and push that back on the lawyer to determine if hire somebody to bring the client up to speed on that.

Holly: So you mentioned collaborative divorce. I know you do a lot of that. As a divorce coach, are you involved in any of the sessions or are you completely separate from the collaborative process?

Kurt: No, I don’t involve myself. Right. Clients get nervous over a meeting that’s going to happen. I can talk to them about that, because I realized that’s one of those points where people get nervous and people start to push back and their emotions, get the best of them, and try and prepare them for the meeting. But I don’t go, you know, some places in the world divorce coaches are the ones that do all the work in the collaborative process, not attorneys. So, yeah, yeah, I, if I’m coaching, I’m out of the process. And if I may, I became a divorce coach, because I wanted the skill set for my collaborative clients, if that makes sense.

Holly: Yes. Okay. So is the type of training you did as a divorce coach, or to become one. How did that improve your practice as a lawyer?

Kurt: I’m a better listener about what I need to get to find out. Even though I probably could have done this as a lawyer, I stepped back and took education on what it looks like from the clients perspective. And non lawyers perspective, the decision points, the emotional points are what drives the thinking of the client, and their emotions, okay, which is very helpful. And then being able to narrow it down, pull on the threads of the conversation that are important, you know, getting this done getting the financial information, understanding this, doing that, and helping my clients and I sit down and create a plan together about what I’m gonna do and what they’re gonna do, okay.

And they feel like they’re part of the team. And they feel like they have their responsibility. And I have, I meet mine they meet, there’s, it’s just good client relations. And plus, getting people to do tasks sometimes gets them out of the emotion of it. And I need that, because I don’t know about you. But I’ve gotten roped into the emotions of the moment with my clients. And that’s not a good place to be when I’m there. And it’s helped me separate myself from that, because I had the skills to listen now for what I need to get, if that makes sense.

Holly: Yeah, and it’s certainly a fine line, we have to walk as attorneys where we want to be compassionate, we want to understand how our clients are feeling yet at the same time, we cannot get too emotionally involved, or we’re not going to survive very long in this practice.

Kurt: Well, you know, the great Bill Eddie always talks about negative advocates, the people around the client, who are advocating negatively, in terms of, you know, get everything you can, they’re a terrible person. Don’t stand for that. My sister in law got $5 million for that, you know, that whole stuff? Yes, yes. And the last thing that my client really needs is for me to start thinking like that, we all get to the point where we might not like the opposing party very much

Holly: Or the opposing attorney.

Kurt: Don’t get me going. Okay. That’s why I respect all you people that do litigation, my hat is off to you. And I’m going to say thank you. And I’m going to particularly say thank you, to you for that one case that you took all the way to the Supreme Court. I thought that that was that needed to happen. And I know there were times you’re not gonna be done with us tomorrow, I’m just ready to fold up my tents. So my hat is off to people that do that do that the litigation. It’s hard to maintain emotional balance.

Holly: It’s definitely a juggling act for sure. And a fine line. Speaking of litigation, can a divorce coach be equally helpful in traditional litigation as well as collaborative one?

Kurt: I would think that probably that’s where the divorce coach would do the most good for the client. All right, because litigation is so today is so combative. And it is so pernicious in, in many ways it to people, because they think whatever happens in that decree is going to be permanent. Some of it is some it’s not. Particularly when it comes to you know, they’re looking at financial future, they’re looking at what’s going to happen with their kids. It’s just very scary. Okay. And as lawyers, there’s not a lot that we can do about that in terms of just do our job the best we can.

We’re not trained. I think litigation more so than then collaborative is where a divorce coach can help keep that client mentally sound, you know, one of the exercises What we do early on is what we call the best self exercise. So often it’s, we’re asked to identify our shortcomings. In this exercise. I asked my clients, what are your strengths? Who do you look to? Who do you admire for these qualities in your life, that is what is going to be needed for you to successfully navigate this with some level of mental health, and come out the other side with some kind of, you know, possibility for your life, not in despair, and constantly generating their bed, showing up at your office cognitively ready, these are my strengths.

And I’m playing to them today, showing up at the courthouse for a hearing. Right, whatever it might be. I think that’s a lot bigger thing than showing up for a meeting where there’s going to be a mental health professional and financial professional that you’ve already been working with, and that you have some relationship with the first meeting is going to be scary after that, not so much. Every time they go to court, they’re going to be scared. Right.

Holly: Right. And I think as attorneys, we can often forget how confusing it is how scary it is, because we do this every day. And we you know, we forget that they don’t know everything we know they don’t have the experience that we have. And having somebody who’s trained to help them through the process in that way is definitely helpful, I think.

Kurt: My ex wife and I did collaborative, and we got together to do the parenting plan. I wanted to blow my brains out doing that parenting plan. All right. And that was years ago, it’s way worse today than it was then. And why do we have to decide on this and go well, because somebody went to court and argued about who gets to decide whether or not the kid gets an earache. Somebody went to court, and said okay, we have to deal with that, too. But that was hard for me, it made my head hurt. I can’t imagine what it’s like for non lawyers. Jeez, and that’s just one example.

Holly: So back at the beginning, you talked about how you’re experienced as a child of divorce, as part of what led you to get into family law. What did you learn from that experience that can help attorneys in helping their clients?

Kurt: Let me back up and say, my target client for what I do, as a lawyer would be somebody who’s divorcing children, because my commitment is to help the parent live up to the promise that every parent makes in the beginning, which is I want the divorce to have as little impact on my children as possible. Okay. They say that and as you know it, and then there are many times that’s the last time they even pay it one bit of attention, much less asked to act like it. Okay. And that weighs on people’s minds, even though they’re not talking about it, even though they’re not acting like it. Okay. I would tell lawyers that if somebody has kids, they’re scared about what’s going to happen with their kids, no matter what they’re telling you. I was scared. I was scared to death.

And I should know better. I wasn’t going to go end up going to court against my ex wife and walking out with no visitation. Okay, that wasn’t going to happen. But that didn’t keep that fear from gnawing at me. All right. And just because we did collaborative doesn’t mean there was there weren’t threats going back and forth. That’s against the collaborative agreement. It’s against the code of conduct. I just want to be clear about that. But I would tell lawyers remember the field, there is so much fear going on about kids and money? And if they’re somebody who’s acting stupid, see if you can figure out what they’re scared of.

Holly: Excellent, excellent advice. If you could give one piece of advice to young lawyers, what would it be?

Kurt: I would tell young lawyers, you’re the only one that’s going to be responsible for your own physical, emotional, spiritual and mental well being. They will not pay you enough to sacrifice those.

Holly: I agree. 100%. I have made work life balance an extremely high priority for myself and for anyone that works for me. So we’re just about out of time. But is there anything else you would like to add or let our listeners know?

Kurt: I would say that first. And I said this earlier to you. And I would say it again. Thank you for what you do. As far as it goes for me. I’ve seen the worst of the worst in divorce when my parents got divorced. And that was in the 70s. That’s before it got really bad seemed like in the 80s. It got worse. I appreciate so much what litigators do in family law, what they take on the fight, they have to fight the other party, the other lawyer and their client and the system. And even though that’s not what I do, I appreciate it. And as a divorce coach, my goal would be to help remove the client problems from that so you can focus on beating the other side.

Holly: Well, rarely is the focus on beating the other side in my practice is more often on how do we put our client in the best position to go forward. And I try and try and get the focus off of beating the other side and onto moving forward. But that might sound more collaborative than it does like a litigator.

Kurt: Well, when I was talking in terms of litigation, you know, but yes, to put your client in the position to be able to make good decisions and good choices that they can feel good about.

Holly: Exactly. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I think I learned a lot about divorce coaching and appreciate your experience and thanks for being here.

Kurt: Well, I appreciate the opportunity.

Voiceover: The Texas Family Law Insiders Podcast is sponsored by the Draper Law Firm. We help people navigate divorce and child custody cases and handle Family Law appellate matters. For more information, visit our website at www.draperfirm.com

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