Washington – As Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos prepare for their own split, we spoke to divorce lawyers, a divorce coach and regular people who’ve been through it about how to divorce without tearing your family apart. (Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Every relationship is different, of course. But whether the details of your relationship are played out in the media or the carpool line, here are some principles to keep in mind.
Divorce can still involve compassion
When Nicole Sodoma, the founder of Sodoma Law in Charlotte, read the Bezoses’ divorce announcement, one phrase stuck out: After a period of “loving exploration and trial separation,” the couple decided to split. The use of the word “loving” in a divorce announcement seems like “an attempt to find compassion in the separation process,” Sodoma says.
“The people we marry are not the people we divorce, because people change,” Sodoma adds. And we don’t often grow at the same pace. During a divorce, it helps to acknowledge that, Sodoma says. Even if a couple is “no longer intact, they can still have an opportunity to focus on the things that count,” she adds, such as respecting one another and keeping things stable for their children.
Do not expect to get emotional closure
“People go into divorce hoping they’ll get some emotional justice,” says Kiri Maponya, a certified divorce coach in Westchester County, New York, but that rarely happens through legal proceedings.
“Divorce is a process of transition, it’s going to create upheaval in us,” Maponya says, adding that it’s important to be able to regulate your emotions and understand our own triggers. Allowing anger, grief, betrayal, sadness to distract from the business of divorce can prolongs the process, she says, costing you more emotionally and financially.
Get the kid stuff settled and then delve into the financial decisions
Caroline Krauss-Browne, an attorney in the matrimonial and family law department of Blank Rome, advises getting children-related issues – such as who’s getting legal and physical custody – resolved as quickly as possible.
“I don’t like the idea of holding children hostage to money,” Krauss-Browne says. “Your kids are the things you love more than words can describe.” If both parents know when they’re going to see their kids and that they’re going to have a voice in their lives, it makes the money stuff easier to deal with, she says.
Avoid going to court
Settling a divorce between both sides’ lawyers – what’s called an “amicable divorce” – costs a lot less than litigation. And it can be more personalized.
“Judges divide with a meat cleaver and lawyers divide with a scalpel,” Krauss-Browne says.
If both parties and their lawyers are having trouble coming to an agreement on their own, there two options to avoid litigation: mediation or arbitration. Both involve a neutral third party. A mediator, for instance, can help both spouses and their lawyers come to a decision but can’t render a decision themselves.
Resist the urge to speak ill of your ex in front of your children
Early on in Vicki Larson’s divorce from her husband Fred, she remembers saying something negative about her ex in front of her sons. The younger one spoke up, saying: “Don’t ever talk that way about Dad.”
That resonated with Larson, co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. So she stopped calling Fred her “ex” in front of her sons; after all, he’s not their “ex-father.” From then on, Larson says she made an effort to refer to him as “your dad” or simply “Dad.”
Don’t let others influence your opinion of your ex – or your situation
When couples who have kids divorce, Larson notes, “there’s still that stigma of a ‘broken home.’ ” But she thinks of it differently: “What happens now is the children have two homes, and they’re still a family.” When her sons were young, she and her ex-husband celebrated holidays and their children’s birthdays together. They’d both show up to their kids’ baseball games.
The Washington Post