On lists of life stressors, divorce is usually ranked among the top two or three most emotionally challenging events. The process itself is experienced as highly stressful by many people, and from what we know about recovery from profound loss, it takes at least a year to begin to regain equilibrium. In other words, the stress caused by a divorce does not usually just go away when the decree is signed. Especially in situations in which there has been a high level of tension and acrimony during the divorce process, it can be very difficult to shift from conflict mode to co-parenting mode if there are children in the family.
New sources of stress can arise post-decree, e.g. introducing children to new significant others, a parent’s decision to move, loss of a job, children struggling to adapt to the new normal. It is normal for these kinds of change to create uncertainty and distress.
When contemplating a divorce, many people turn to divorce professionals for ideas, advocacy and support. This can lessen feelings of isolation and uncertainty during a time of crisis. However, after the decree has been submitted to the court, people may feel they are on their own to pick themselves up and commence with the rest of their lives.
It has been my experience that specific post-decree support provided by neutral coaches and neutral child specialists can be an invaluable resource for families defining their new normal after a divorce. In the context of voluntary post decree alternative dispute resolution, resources can be shared, support given, and skills developed for effective co-parenting. Parenting and relationship plans can be created (if not completed during the divorce itself) or revised by joint agreement. In the context of voluntary alternative dispute resolution, children can be safely included in this process, e.g. to check in about their adjustment to new schedules and routines. It has been suggested that follow up care like this should be offered to all divorcing couples, though not all may need it.
This is not a replacement for psychotherapy. Individual therapy can enhance personal growth, provide support and help adults and children heal emotionally. Couples therapy specific to the end of marriage can help resolve lingering emotional issues and conflict. Family therapy may be valuable, especially if relationship repair between parents and children is needed. It is also not a replacement for support groups or resources like Daisy Camp. However, post-decree consultation with neutral experts who specialize in helping family members make the healthiest possible adjustment to a divorce can be a focused and powerful kind of support during a challenging time of transition.
- Fine turn your parenting plan NOW. Don’t wait until the middle of September after a few hiccups have ready occurred.
- Who’s paying for what? If you haven’t already sat down with your ex to discuss this go grab coffee and decide who is paying for school supplies, clothes, school fees, daycare/afterschool care, sports and activities fees, etc. Map this out now to prevent an argument later.
- Revisit and outline who has custody for which holidays this school year. Spring break may seem like a lifetime away right now, but now is the time for those discussions.
- It’s inevitable – kids get sick. Make sure you are on the same page with a plan in place on who will stay home or pick up the sick child. Will you rotate, do it based on who has custody that day? You decide what works best, and plan for flexibility, but don’t wait until you are on the phone with the school nurse to decide.
- Speaking of sick kids, assuming which parent providing medical insurance is already set, decide who is going to pay the uninsured medical costs, co-pays, etc.
- Run-down of your regular weekly schedule, which provides appropriate time for each parent. Does is work better for Mom to pick up Matt after soccer practice and take him to Dad’s even though it’s Dad’s night? Parenting schedules will never be black and white, so plan for some flexibility, while preparing for multiple scenarios.
- Transportation. Discuss who is driving to school, activities, drop offs, pick-ups etc. Will you be meeting half way to drop off/pick up or at each other’s houses. Are each other’s spouses/significant others “approved” to do so?
- Saving for college. Whether there is no money is the budget to save and the “plan” is to wait 2 years to start, or one or both of you can start now, decide who, how much and where the money is going to: savings account, 529 College Saving account, etc.
- Introducing new significant others into the mix. Make sure this is discussed now before feelings are hurt later on when mom unexpectedly meets dad’s new girlfriend at pick-up or find out that the kids meet a new boyfriend without dad knowing.
- Communication. Last, and the most important tip is communication. The communication you have with your ex will ultimately reflect the relationship you have with your kids. It may not come easy, but continuing to improve communication is best for all parties.
Working with children, I became a Harry Potter fan out of both necessity and real appreciation. J.K. Rowlings’ world of wizards and magic is a fantasy, but the themes of these books are human and real. Among the most frightening characters in Rowlings’ epic struggles of power and control, good vs. evil, are the Death Eaters and the Dementors.
The Death Eaters are those in the wizard world who have made a pledge to support Lord Voldemort, whose vision of total domination rather than peaceful co-existence has been distorted by his hate and rage, and obsession with destroying Harry Potter. The Dementors are the terrifying, soul-sucking wraiths who feed on fear. What a relief that Death Eaters and Dementors aren’t real and aren’t about us! But Rowlings has created a thought-provoking twist.
By the last book, Harry Potter has discovered that he and Lord Voldemort have much in common. Harry alone must determine whether he is capable of making the necessary sacrifice for the greater good of those who depend on him to be their champion. Harry must defeat the Death Eaters and Dementors by conquering his own fear and rage with selfless love. Harry is not perfect, he has made many mistakes and hurt the ones he cares about, but he has this gift within him waiting to be discovered at the time of ultimate crisis.
What I find compelling about the Harry Potter books is the mirror they hold to our world. In our humanity, we all find ourselves having to figure out how to resolve inevitable conflicts and manage strong negative emotions. Parents and children facing divorce are certainly living through an emotional crisis. The question is, do we let rage and fear drive and perhaps distort our actions, or do we seek another way, one that may ask us to sacrifice power and control for the greater good of those who depend on us to be their champions–our children.
Collaborative Team Practice is an alternative dispute resolution process using interest-based negotiation and problem solving to reach agreements and sustainable resolutions. On the team, allied and neutral professionals provide support and guidance to manage strong negative emotions, suggest creative and equitable financial resolutions, and negotiate safe, developmentally responsive parenting plans. It can be a highly effective way to help families transition respectfully during the crisis of a divorce.
We know Collaborative Team Practice may not be the right choice for all families. However, it is a process that will work for many families. Our belief is that reaching agreements rather than perpetuating conflict is truly the way to be champions for children in the age of Death Eaters and Dementors.