By Christina Vinters, J.D., Family Law Mediator, “ex” Divorce Lawyer, and Author of Pathways to Amicable Divorce: Directions for the Beginning of Separation
Most people have heard horror stories about divorce and would like to avoid such experiences themselves. The adversarial divorce usually involves massive legal expenses, high levels of stress, and prolonged conflict which ends up harming the children. The good news is that there are ways of managing separation that will help your family transition from a one-household family to a two-household family without destroying the functionality of your family relationships and your family savings.
Some of the steps you will need to take to get started on a healthy separation may seem counter-intuitive to you. However, there are specific strategic advantages for each one. Keep in mind that de-escalation of conflict needs to be an ongoing priority.
1. Treat your partner as you would treat a business partner.
Be courteous. Answer emails, text messages and phone calls. Don’t badmouth him or her to friends, family, co-workers, and especially not on social media or to your children. Do what you say you’re going to do. Communicate important information. Provide requested documentation in a timely manner. Do not treat the other person as the enemy. Model desirable conduct. Demonstrate that you can be trusted and that you do not want to participate in a race to the bottom in terms of your behavior. These are basics of any decent relationship but are frequently overlooked or disregarded during separation.
You will have to continue to work together on the resolution of all of the issues arising out of the breakdown of your relationship, and if you have children, you will have to continue to work together and co-exist as parents of shared children for years to come (including attending birthday parties, graduations, weddings, and so forth). It can be helpful to consider how you’d like to see your relationship years down the road – for example, you probably don’t want your children to have to worry about how to plan a wedding with both of you in attendance. Don’t do anything now in the heat of the moment that will create tension and unpleasantness for years to come.
Separation can be an overwhelming time of intense mixed emotions, including sadness, guilt, denial, relief, anger and fear, to name only a few. Although it can be tempting in a moment of disagreement to let your anger flow, it will generally be better in the long-term for your family if you take a deep breath, work hard on maintaining your patience (sorting out the details of separation usually takes longer than people hope and expect), and give both you and your partner time to understand the shifting needs of your family as you move from being a one-household family to a two-household family. Handling your emotions in a constructive and respectful way is an important component of moving ahead on the path towards amicable divorce.
2. Don’t make any significant changes.