“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness”. Martin Luther King
I know it is a difficult concept to wrap your head around and most may even call it an oxymoron, but there is a way to actually divorce with class. I am not suggesting that it is going to be easy, but when you think about the options and the effects on your children, every effort should be made to get through a grueling time with dignity.
The biggest challenge a couple faces when separating is timing. It is rare that two people agree at the same time that the marriage is not working. It is even more rare that they both want it to end at the same time. The majority of the time, one party in the relationship has long checked out while the other is either unaware or trying to put things back together. So when the “checked out” party finally says, “I’m done”, they have already processed the end of the relationship. Contrast this with the other spouse who is likely to be emotionally devastated and you have the makings for a disastrous divorce. It is at this point that you have to make a very important decision: will you be fair or nasty.
So here is my lyrical advice for the divorcing couple that would prefer to get through the process with class:
1. Time after Time
If you are the spouse that ended the marriage, irrespective of what the other party did or didn’t do, you have to allow the other person to catch up and be able to swallow the word ‘divorce’. After years of marriage, you can take some time to organize your separation. Legally there are steps that must be taken but they don’t have to be finalized yesterday. Be patient – it will only help in the long run. You don’t need to immediately bombard the other person with messages about an immediate division of assets or the exact amount of support you intend to pay/receive. There are formulas for this. There is a process in place. It really is not as complicated as everyone makes it out to be. In fact, we the lawyers won’t cost so much if you just let us do our job. All you need to focus on is keeping things calm at home and being patient.
2. Sticks and Stones
This old adage is based in the concept of civil law. It holds that mere name-calling does not give rise to a legal cause of action, while physical violence does. Although not giving rise to a cause of action, name-calling will certainly get a rise. If the marriage is over, you must move forward, not back and so both parties must resist the temptation for name-calling and accusations. This will only exasperate an already painful process. Make a conscious effort every day to be civil with each other.
3. Teach your Children Well
If you have children, and I cannot stress this enough, remember they are the most effected and most injured parties in this whole process. Do NOT use them as bait or try to get them to be your allies in a battle. Put their emotions first and teach them how to cope with the end of their old family and beginning of two new ones. I often have clients who come in and are seemingly so concerned about how the children will react but they quickly forget about this concern in favour of their own hidden agenda. Your children do not need to know what either parent has done or is doing. Do not send them to the other parent to ask for money or anything for that matter. Be an adult and a loving, caring parent; set the example.
4. The Big (Financial) Chill
I have never quite been able to wrap my head around the financial freeze. What would posses the major income earner in the family to want to make the stay home or lesser income earning parent suffer financially? Is it not bad enough that everything else in life is breaking down? Rethink this approach and leave with class and dignity. I understand the fact that there are now two houses to support and only so much money to go around, but I also believe that if you both sit down like two adults and apportion out the family income until a final settlement is in place this will allow both parties to live with minimal stress. At this point, you are well on your way to getting civilly through this process. This is especially true if children are involved.
5. Separate Ways – World’s Apart
If you follow steps 1 through 4, you will get through this process fairly quickly with your family still somewhat in tact. Yes, I use the word family because if you have children you will always be family and you will always interact. There will be major occasions that you will share together as parents: graduations, holidays, weddings, even grandchildren. So my best advice is to continue to follow steps 1 through 4 even after you have fully separated. Keep your lines of communication open and don’t send messages through or with the children. It is always better to be kind than right.