I had a client a while back – we’ll call her Jill. Jill was married to Jack and they had a young son, Junior. Jack ran a successful business while Jill was working on developing her own career. However, a primary focus of both parties’ lives was their son.
As parents do, they loved Junior very much and worked very hard on being the best parents they could. They preferred to keep daycare to a minimum and looked for ways to keep work time down so that they could spend as much time as possible with Junior in his formative years.
However, one day Jack let Jill know that he wanted a divorce. Jill was devastated. She had not seen this coming and really didn’t even know how to react. She got mad, she cried, she even tried Botox. It was hard for Jill to imagine her life moving forward. Not only was she having to suddenly cope with the end of her marriage, she had no idea what this might mean for their son. Were they going to battle over custody? Would they still be able to work with each other as parents? On top of all that, there were now going to be two households to finance, just at a time when the downturn in the economy was causing problems for Jack’s business.
Unfortunately, part of the reason Jack and Jill were getting divorced was that they did not see eye to eye on much besides the importance of their son. Interestingly, they did not even agree on the story of their lives together. They did not agree on what decisions they had made in the past. They did not agree on their financial responsibilities or what their work lives should look like.
Fortunately Jill and Jack did learn about Collaborative Divorce. Jill hired me to help her through that process, and Jack hired another attorney that I have worked closely with on many cases. The team helped them focus on defining goals and finding areas of commonality. Both agreed that not disrupting Junior’s life more than necessary was a top priority, and that this meant they needed to find ways to continue to be a “family” after divorce – to be able to make decisions together, to nurture Junior’s relationship with both parents, and to coordinate their separate lives at the intersection of their son.
As we moved into the case, things got tougher. They had big differences about work. Both wanted to maximize his or her time with Junior. For Jack, this meant cutting back his work hours while expecting Jill to quickly increase her work level. For Jill it meant slowing down her career development until Junior was older. Jack and Jill also argued about money, and there were some very emotionally loaded issues around inheritances.
At the same time, the couple did not want to work with the coaches on the team. They saw coaches as an unnecessary expense and maybe were not even comfortable with the idea of mental health professionals on the team (that sounds too much like “therapy”). Because of this, progress on their issues was not going well. Jill in her pain cast herself as the victim and Jack as the “bad guy” who did this to her. Jack retreated emotionally rather than engage. Without coaches to help them sort out their family dynamic, communication continued to break down.
However, because they were highly motivated to find a way to make things work, to avoid litigation for their son’s sake, Jack and Jill kept at it even when it seemed like they might not be able to reach agreement. Jill began to realize that she did not want to continue to see herself as a victim. She wanted respect, she wanted independence, and she wanted to be happy again. She began to reach out with small favors, apologies, and understanding – and she began to feel in control of her life again.
It was still not easy, but Jack and Jill were able to work through their list of issues and reach resolutions. Both made changes to accommodate the other, and they were able to creatively craft a future focused on the best interests of both parties as well as their son.
After the divorce had been over a while, Jill wrote to me to say:
“We just wanted you to know that our relationship is really so much better than we ever expected. To see where we were when this process started, it is amazing that we are able to not only work collaboratively with parenting but also seem to have a healthy and supportive friendship. All of our friends and those who interact with [our son] have commented on how settled we seem to be and how lovely it is to see our family – even though changed – remain solid.
“We know that challenges will test us, but we are building confidence that we can handle changes in ways that will retain our commitment to each other. We all thank you so much and hope that it heartens you to hear that your work with us is appreciated daily.”
If you are contemplating divorce, how do you want to look back on your divorce when it is over? Do you want to feel proud of how you handled the tough times, how you treated your spouse, the kind of future you helped create for your children?
If so, talk to a Collaborative professional to find out how you can have a respectful adult process like Jack and Jill.