MTI Automotive Egypt | JLR Family Day Event | Cars & CigarsNo matter when a divorce commences, it is practically inevitable that there will be at least one special event—a child’s birthday, a graduation, a holiday, a family reunion—that occurs during the divorce process. Determining how to celebrate such events can add stress to an already difficult situation. It is understandably the case that many divorcing parents are not ready, willing or able to jointly plan or celebrate a family event, and they should not feel pressured to do so.  Children will feel supported by parents who succeed in keeping them at the center and out of the middle, and that alone is a huge accomplishment.  Despite how parents feel about each other, their children should experience freedom to enjoy special events and celebrations planned by each parent. Parents should be supported and encouraged to coordinate and alternate the hosting of special events for their children with as much courtesy and good will as possible. But what about divorcing parents who are not in high conflict and are generally co-parenting well?  Sometimes parents can feel pressured by cultural expectations about what should happen in a divorce, e.g. divorcing parents should have separate birthday celebrations for their kids; divorcing parents should not jointly host a graduation party; soon to be ex-in-laws should not be invited to an extended family gathering at the other parent’s home. Many parents opt to redefine cultural expectations regarding divorce, especially those that would limit their ability to jointly and positively celebrate milestones, holidays and birthdays with and for their children.  These parents are able to create an environment in which their kids can relax and enjoy jointly celebrated events.  As a neutral child specialist in Collaborative Practice, I have learned that many children value whole family celebrations despite parents getting unmarried. Some parents have asked me if their kids may misperceive joint celebrations as a sign their parents are reuniting, but that is unlikely to happen if parents explain the situation clearly.  “We have always enjoyed celebrating special times together with you, and we will continue to do this once in a while.  This doesn’t mean we’re going to get married again, but it does mean we love being your mom and dad.” I will never forget the little boy who told me, “You know the twinkle in their eyes that parents get when their son comes down the stairs on Christmas morning?  I’m sad that both my parents won’t get to have that this year.”  When his divorcing parents heard their son’s words, it was an easy decision for them to celebrate Christmas morning together that year.
Wedding GiftHave you ever attended a wedding where the groom’s parents refused to be in the same photograph? Do you know a bride who had to keep her divorced parents separated during the reception? The resulting tension can be palpable to everyone and can taint what should be a joyous occasion for the loving couple. A recent New York Times article describes the additional stress felt by children of divorced parents both before and during their weddings. When exes have difficulty communicating with each other, planning the event is more complicated and stressful for their child, who may be forced to consult with each parent individually. If either parent carries lingering resentment about financial issues, conversations about wedding expenses can trigger unresolved anger. Questions about who will participate in (or even attend) the ceremony may arise if the child’s relationship with either parent was damaged by the parents’ split. All of this unresolved anxiety shifts the focus away from the bride and groom and the happy occasion. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Divorcing parents who choose the Collaborative divorce process are asked to articulate their dreams for the future. These goals typically include aspirations for a healthy co-parenting relationship and financial security for both parents. Setting goals empowers them to co-write the ending to their own unique divorce story. Doing so restores some sense of control during a turbulent time. Less resentment means a more peaceful future for the entire family. How a couple divorces has a ripple effect, impacting a wide circle of family and friends, with their children in the center. How they divorce will affect each and every future family event. What better wedding gift can any parents give their children than a day filled with loving support?
Almost every potential client I meet with wants to minimize the negative effects of divorce on the children.  So many couples want to consciously have a healthy co-parenting relationship. And as parents, we know our kids better than anyone and should be able to make decisions about what our children need. Over my years of practicing family law, I have also learned that children benefit from having a voice in the process and an opportunity to feel heard. And they need a safe place to talk about what they are struggling with during the divorce.  Not surprisingly, kids do not want to tell mom or dad things they think will hurt their feelings yet, they can feel torn, even with the best of intentions by both parents.  What we know is that kids have undivided loyalty to both parents.  They can say very conflicting things to each parent (if the parents compared notes between them) yet, it was their truth each time they said it. They are afraid sometimes to speak about what they need, because they don’t want to “make waves” or cause sadness. When I went through my divorce, my former spouse and I worked with a Neutral Child Specialist in the Collaborative process.  After meeting with the specialist and talking about our kids’ temperaments, developmental needs, sibling dynamics and our concerns, the specialist met with our kids once together and then individually.  We then had a feedback session that provided us with some great insights by and about our kids that we used to create our parenting plan.  We learned what we were doing well, where our kids were struggling, what they worried about and how we could better help them.  We knew some things already, but also learned a lot while hearing things framed in a positive and constructive manner from the neutral. Then, about a year and a half later, my son (then almost 10) asked when he could go back and talk to that woman who helped us with our divorce.  Rather than pressing him about what prompted the request, his dad and I set up an appointment with him to check in with the Neutral Child Specialist. Low and behold, he was feeling a lot of stress each week because there were too many transitions between houses. We thought that our kids needed to see us each regularly but learned that the number of transitions was really hard on him.  So when we met together with the specialist, we created a new plan that kept us regularly involved in the kids’ lives, but decreased the number of transitions from 7  to 4 every two weeks.  Our son was worried that one of us would think that he didn’t like spending time with us if the time changed and that he was choosing one parent over the other despite having a great relationship with each of us. We were so glad that he had someone he felt safe with in voicing what wasn’t working for him and he could ask for help.  It was so much easier for him to talk to a neutral person, rather than worrying about how we might take what he was saying wrong. It was so helpful to hear from the specialist and have a safe place for us to problem solve. This is how the collaborative process helps keep children in the center, but not in the middle.
Image courtesy of photostock / When it comes to co-parenting after divorce, the best parenting plan is the one you never have to use. Creating the parenting plan is perhaps the most important part of your collaborative divorce process. But if you put the time and energy into creating a complete plan, you will lay the foundation for good communication and have the flexibility to work with your former spouse as your children’s needs change in the future. The habits of good co-parenting will be ingrained and will be second nature. Minnesota law permits parents to avoid the labels of legal and physical custody if they have a parenting plan that spells out the important aspects of parenting. In collaborative divorce, parents frequently choose to use a child specialist who can help them develop a thoughtful parenting plan that is tailored to their family. Parenting plans typically include:
  • the schedule of how the children will divide their time between the parents;
  • how the parents will communicate about their children;
  • how the parents will make important decisions related to their children, such as schools, activities, and religion;
  • how the parents will handle child care and medical care;
  • how the parents will handle contact with the extended family;
  • how the parents will introduce the children to new partners.
When you invest in having the discussions necessary to reach agreement on these topics, you create a comprehensive written plan.  But what’s even more valuable, you have experienced communicating as co-parents —  working through disagreements, reaching an understanding about how to approach the ever-changing future landscape of parenting.  The more you practice these skills, the better you become. As your children grow up, you will have the solid foundation of communication and the flexibility to adapt to your children’s changing needs.  You won’t need to pull out the document to look up how you are going to handle co-parenting.