I recently received a message from a friend of mine whose marriage is sadly coming to an end. They are both amazing people in their own right, but as is so often the case, sometimes it just doesn’t work. He and his wife also have a beautiful daughter together which is, of course, what this blog is all about.
What was distressing to me about his particular circumstance was that rather than the end of the relationship being a decision that had come about through discussions, then a mutual decision to split, and a subsequent discussion about what was best as a family moving forward in terms of filing; one party filed papers without the other’s knowledge which was done by advisement from the attorney they had consulted. From my perspective this establishes an Us vs Them scenario where both sides are immediately on the defensive establishing their respective lines of attack. In doing so, it is now likely that the other person will have to get their own attorney and there will be a lot of back and forth communication and negotiating between attorneys, which in turn creates additional costs.
For me this raised the question, “Do you realize there’s another option?” When my ex-wife first approached me about splitting up, my immediate reaction was, aside from the devastation of recognizing that your marriage was ending, was “Crap, this is going to cost me a fortune.” I also saw a lot of battling over custody, who gets what and how much, convincing a judge I’m a good dad etc. But to her credit, this was not about what will she get and how much, this was about working together to raise our children within two separate residences. We immediately felt it would be best for everyone involved if we could avoid having a judge decide things and eventually worked through one attorney which brought our final cost in at roughly $1,500.00.
Was it easy? No. It meant us working together on all of the stipulations about finances and custody and schedule. And we both gave in a LOT! This was especially true when it came to finances and our home. And we both struggled with our egos and the natural tendency to protect ourselves at the expense of the other. It was hell. But by keeping the mental welfare of our children as the primary focus, we were able to acknowledge when other things really didn’t matter as much. We recognized that this wasn’t going to be a cake walk for anyone and the important thing was getting the transition in motion so we could all move forward and keep the ugliness to a minimum.
I realize not every marriage is going to present itself with these options. But, in cases where both acknowledge that this is going nowhere and that divorce is really the only answer, I have a problem accepting the fact that anyone benefits from one person going off and filing papers without the knowledge of the other. All this does is scare the crap out of the other person who feels completely in the dark and is then scrambling to make sure they don’t get screwed. It also sets a tone of “I’m not working with you on this” and “it’s every spouse for him/herself.” In turn everyone gets defensive and tempers flair more easily. Now instead of focusing on the child, we’re focusing on protecting our own butts and before you know it the entire hockey season is lost.
While it means breaking bad communication habits you obviously already had as a couple or you likely wouldn’t be in this position in the first place, the whole point here is to work together, putting aside differences and ensuring that the child(ren) have the ability to maintain positive strong relationships with both parents. Yes, it means giving in on some things and it sucks at times and you’re going to get mad at each other and you’re going to battle. But working through it together, through a single attorney can save you both money AND ensure that the two of you make the important decisions rather than a judge.
Now, obviously every situation is different and there are cases where one party needs to draw the line and start the process. And of course there are cases where the judge really needs to be the one making the decisions. But if there’s a chance you both want what’s best for everyone involved; then working out the parenting
schedule, financials and other issues together sets the stage for adjusting things as you go along and assisting each other week to week as your own schedules change. In the end it makes for a much more successful transition for everyone; most importantly the kids.
It’s hard! But your kids are looking to you to set the tone for this entire event. They’re confused, scared and likely putting a lot of blame and pressure on themselves. They need you two more than ever and they need you working together at a time when you’ve recognized you can’t work together. Sucks, I know. But most likely, you’ve both worked hard raising your child. And if you look hard enough to the root of it, you both recognize strengths you both bring to the table. The bottom line is, those little hearts need both of you and the last thing they need is to feel like they have to choose sides. And the best way to accomplish that is to avoid establishing those sides in the first place. Because the reality is, even though you’ll be divorced, on some level you will ALWAYS be a family.