When I’m handling a divorce for a client with children under the age of 18 I often find myself telling him or her, more than once, that their interactions with their future ex won’t end once the divorce is final as much as they might hope for that. Unless their future ex is someone who will never, by their own choice, have any contact with his or her children again after the divorce is final, a very rare and usually undesirable occurrence, then they will have to learn to get along, at least enough to co-parent their children effectively.
Everything else involved in dividing up the marital estate is just stuff, fleeting artifacts I remind them, that pale in comparison to the most important product of their marriage, their children. After divorce children have an understandable desire and expectation that their parents will be able to do far more parenting than merely being able to tolerate standing in the same room together. Children hope with all their hearts, whether they can or do actually verbalize it, that their Mom and Dad will be able to actually co-parent them; talk about their problems and concerns together and actually be their parents and not merely distant individuals whose only interactions concern pick up and drop off logistics.
What children fear most in divorce, apart from the inevitable periodic separation from one parent, is that that separation will be forever and that Mom and Dad now hate each other and that the family they were once comfortable with is now changed forever, and not for the better. Of course, there are situations where the acrimony between spouses is so great and sometimes violent that divorce and permanent bad feelings are inevitable, but in my practice, that is usually not the case. In my experience, both spouses are usually good parents that just cannot be married any longer. The reason or reasons are, where their children are concerned, unimportant.
There is no denying that the transition from a married couple to two people attempting to co-parent their children is difficult. If there weren’t already bad feelings between the spouses they wouldn’t be divorcing, but note that difficult is not even in the same universe as impossible. As hard as it may be, divorcing spouses must separate their divorce and the inevitable conflicts and compromises along the way. What is imperative, is that they must, for the sake of their children, be able to work together going forward, to raise their children together and be able to rationally discuss the many issues, (school, medical, religious, etc.) that will arise during the years before their children are emancipated. I recommend to my clients that they participate in co-parenting classes in order to learn how to master what is, without a doubt, a tough, but necessary skill. Parents need to come to grips with the reality that just because they cannot be married does not mean that they can’t still be effective parents. It’s not easy. It takes work, compromise and the willingness to put one’s hurt feelings, anger, and resentment away in the interest of doing right by your children.
Remember, Mom and Dad, you wouldn’t hesitate to run into a burning building or leap into a raging river to save your children, well, in a very real sense, they need your saving now. Don’t let them down.
Steve Buitron, JD, MPA