I came across an article recently that gave some great advice for single mothers. There was one thing that concerned me though. The author, Samantha Young, talked about the ‘good divorce’ where both parties are ‘rational and adult, divide assets fairly…do not argue or fight, support one another in parenting, agree on custody and remain friends’. The author, despite being a psychologist said she had ‘never seen or heard of such a divorce’.
Luckily for me I get to see and hear about these divorces all the time. Often I get couples in mediation that are really committed to the pursuit of the ‘good divorce’ and will work hard to ensure it. At Farrar Gesini Dunn we also offer couples the option of Collaborative Law, where couples work with their lawyers, and possibly other professionals like child specialists and finance gurus, to make arrangements in a collaborative rather than adversarial manner.
There is no question that couples that commit to a ‘good divorce’ will be required to expend a lot of time and energy in working towards this goal. They will need to make certain commitments to behaving in an adult and rational manner, as well as minimising conflict. They will need to focus not on their own needs but to the needs of the family as a whole, most importantly the needs of the children. There is no question that in many respects proceeding straight to litigation is the easy way out. A ‘good divorce’ requires both parties to be ‘good people’ and in the throes of a break up this can be quite difficult, even for the best of us. Being your better self is challenging, it is far easier to allow a traditional litigation lawyer to fuel the flames of conflict and maintain your rage.
As to being ‘friends’ I think this may be, initially at least, an unrealistic goal. What couples instead should aim for is a respectful and business-like relationship, where the ‘business’ of the family is the parenting of the children. In order to get the best results you’ll need to work together, and like many a work situation you may have to do this with someone that you don’t necessarily like. A good divorce isn’t about liking your partner, it is about working productively together for the sake of the children.
The key to a good divorce is the same as the key to a successful marriage – respectful dialogue, honesty and integrity, focusing on being your better self and lots of hard work. If you are willing to do that then a ‘good divorce’ is within your grasp.
Samantha Young’s article can be found at http://www.mamamia.com.au/parenting/advice-for-single-mums
NB. Samantha also advises minimising the use of lawyers. I would clarify this by saying that you should minimise the use of litigation lawyers but seek advice from lawyers (and mediators) who promote interests based negotiation and collaborative frameworks. The lawyer you choose will often determine the outcome – chose the wrong one and the ‘good divorce’ won’t even be an option.