Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, divorce, separation, Uncategorized

What is divorce and separation counselling, and how does it work?

The terms ‘separation counselling’ and ‘divorce counselling’ describe counselling for couples or individuals who want support while they go through the process of formally ending their relationship. The process is the same, regardless of whether they have been legally married or not.

In my Sydney practice we see a lot of couples who seek separation counselling because there are children involved and they intend to co-parent them. Finance and asset distribution are also common challenges. And we see individuals who want support and guidance before they start the process of divorce or separation from their partner.

People assume that if you are the person who wants to end the relationship, you’ll cope better through a separation. In reality, it’s very rare to sail through a separation without a fair amount of anxiety, stress and pain for both parties.

Separation may be the right thing to do but it’s never easy.

 How can divorce counselling help?

Seeing a trained professional – a Couples Counsellor or Family Counsellor – will help you navigate your emotions, advise you on how to best manage your relationship with your ex (and others), and provide information how to navigate this process.

Importantly, counselling can help you communicate well during this difficult time. A relationship counsellor, couples counsellor or family counsellor can help you avoid saying or doing unhelpful things at a time when emotions run high – which can make a very big difference to your life after the separation. Here are a few things Divorce Counselling can help you with:-

  • How to manage the immediate aftermath of the decision to separate. Establishing ground rules, living arrangements, who to tell, support needed, communication between the ex-couple.
  • Guidance on professionals you might want or need to see, such as legal professionals.
  • Messaging to children, extended family and friends. So many people just don’t know how to do this well which really impacts children and future relationships.
  • How to manage social situations, especially formal occasions that your ex might be attending too. Think weddings, big birthdays, etc.
  • Ongoing communication between the co-parents about their children.
  • How to help children with grief and loss, and any other issues that might come up regarding a child/children.
  • How to settle children into a new timetable and homes when they go between parents.
  • Appropriate access/contact arrangements with parents according to the development and age of the child – please note you should be seeing someone who has family therapy training for this type of advice.
  • Help with any new partners who may be introduced.
  • Support through a litigation process.

Here are the different types of divorce counselling that Sydney Couple and Family Specialists help our clients with:

  1. Individuals who request relationship counselling because they want a private space away from their ex-partner to process thoughts, feelings and make decisions.
  2. A parent who requests relationship counselling or family counselling because they have entered a litigation or Family Court process with their ex-partner. I highly recommend that anyone going through a litigation process seeks professional counselling.
  3. Ex-partners who seek Family Counselling together to manage their children’s welfare during separation and divorce. This includes messaging to the children, guidance around what is in the best interests of children, how to help children with grief and loss and how to manage communication.
  4. Ex-partners who cannot agree on access/contact arrangements for their children and are hoping to avoid litigation, often choose to commence Divorce Counselling with hope of resolving the dispute. Please note you should ensure your Divorce Counsellor is a qualified Family Counsellor for this work.
  5. Ex-partners who have been mandated by The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, or the Children’s Court to seek Family Counselling to repair relationships, and parenting help. Again, you should seek a qualified Family Counsellor for this work and note that files are often subpoenaed during this process and the Family Counsellor may be required to write a report for the Court.

What qualifications should a Divorce Counsellor or Separation Counsellor have?

A Divorce Counsellor should be someone who is trained as a Couples Counsellor or Family Therapist.  They should have degree qualifications and training in the field of Systemic Relationship Counselling.  And they should have experience working in the separation space and be familiar with legal aspects of separation and the Family Court System. Don’t be afraid to ask someone about their experience and training.

Will my family be okay after separation and divorce?

I’m not going to lie.  Separation is tough going for everyone.  In my experience working with many people, you will go through roughly one year of emotional angst before you start to see light at the end of the tunnel. It may be hard to separate, but if you are living with constant conflict, pain and distress, the year it takes to go through a separation can be worth it.

I do think it’s important to be really sure you want to separate and to understand what you are really in for, particularly if you have children.  If you are not sure, please speak to a Relationship or Couples Counsellor who can help you work this out.

About Jacqueline Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families.  She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas. In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work. Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families.  She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on. Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future. Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter.  Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.
Qualifications and Professional Membership Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling. Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute.  She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions. Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area. She is a Clinical Member of the Family Therapy Association of Australia and a Clinical Member of PACFA.
“Thank you for seeing me today. Your help with all our family issues and all your advice has been invaluable. I don’t know how other families do it, without a Jacqueline in their lives.” – Anna (43) step-mum and mum to four children.
If you feel as though you could benefit from talking with a Therapist please contact  The Sydney Couple and Family Specialists on 02 8968 9397 or email

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