It takes two people to get engaged. Two to say “I do.” Two to plan, grow and dream together under the best circumstances in a marriage, and two to be present, patient and nurturing during the worst of times.
But what if it doesn’t work out? What if only one is faithful? Only one is respectful? What if neither wishes to grow old with the other? Well, then it might be time for a divorce. And divorce, like marriage, takes two.
Sure, it only takes one party to file, and only one to move out of the home. However, it takes two to accept the reality of the situation. And once that conclusion is reached, it’s time to work as a team. A team with a shared goal, and a plan to reach it.
My perspective might sound ludicrous. For that, you can blame my parents who modeled incredible collaboration throughout their separation. They showed me that divorce, though not easy, can be a healthy and family-focused alternative to an unproductive partnership. When my mom and dad stopped being spouses, they became teammates, focused on their duties as parents and co-owners of multiple assets. They worked together to separate their stuff and ensure their children had two peaceful and loving places to call home.
When my ex and I decided to let go of our partnership, we did so out of respect for ourselves and each other. Regardless of who did what to whom, we weren’t happy. We didn’t meet each others needs, and and we wanted different things in life. Under the conditions of our marriage, we were each suffocating in a different way. The evidence was undeniable, and it was clear to both of us that we needed to make a serious change.
In many ways, my divorce mirrored my wedding. It was cheap, involved very little drama and the two of us made all decisions pertaining to the event. We determined at the beginning that our goal was to dissolve our marriage and not destroy each other. Our negotiation process took place in a Chinese restaurant, where we calmly discussed the division of all assets, including our dogs and our business. We decided between ourselves what we felt was fair, and we determined a timeline and separation scenario that best met the needs of both of us.
When it comes to divorce, our cultural instinct is to hire a lawyer and go to war. Unfortunately for some, such an adversarial process is the best way to deal with the issues at hand. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and it’s never too late to change the trajectory of your own divorce. The fact is, high-paid attorneys and appointed employees of the state don’t know each individual family.
They aren’t intimately in tune with the needs of the children. They don’t know or necessarily care how the costs of a legal battle will effect the financial stability of your family. Do you really want to place everything in their hands?
If you and your ex decide to work through your separation as allies instead of adversaries, here are a few quick tips to help you out:
- Determine your shared goals. Unite over what you agree on and you’ll always have a focus to return to. This gives you a guide against which to measure any future actions before they’re taken. Many parents can agree that they want to make things easiest for their children. Can you go any further than that? Do you want to preserve your family vacations, summer camp or the kids’ annual trip to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade? Are you both committed to living close enough to participate in your children’s academic and extra-curricular activities?
- Agree on what you don’t want. Can you agree that you don’t want the costs of your divorce to exceed a certain dollar amount? Can you agree that you don’t your children to act as middlemen in your communications? This practice will help you to determine your rules and boundaries as you move forward. Again, you can use this list when considering possible actions in the future: Should you have your son ask about the status of the support check? Should you pay your lawyer to communicate on your behalf about a small issue?
- Make a plan. Now that you know what you want and don’t want, you can start planning your future as a family. The plan you agree to might be full of holes, omitting items that you don’t agree on. That’s OK. You can always consult an attorney, mediator or financial planner to help fill in the gaps. The point is that you’re working together to do what’s best for your family.
Approaching divorce as a team isn’t always easy, but the benefits often outweigh the discomfort. An allied approach empowers exes to control their own outcome. It can save money and preserve the collaboration and communication skills necessary for effective coparenting after the lawyers leave the scene.
Marriage begins with the commitment of two people. Shouldn’t it end the same way?