Leave it to Gwyneth Paltrow to coin a phrase that became the new standard for “healthy divorce.” The term is not an oxymoron, because while challenging, the ability to be able to part ways financially and emotionally without significantly damaging each other should be an ideal that all families hold as a possibility. All divorces do not have to turn into a full-out “Battle Royale” that leaves each partner, and potentially the children and extended family, traumatized and stressed.
What does it take to end a marriage and still stay friends? For each partner, it is a different approach; rarely do both partners want to end the relationship. There are misconceptions about the partner who wants to leave – the one who initiates the divorce – and understandable anger and resentment from the partner who wishes to stay within the marriage. We will explain why an amicable divorce is more than creating an “easy way out” of a marriage; and, why it is essential to help partners move on, and reestablish themselves after the transition in a healthy way.
The best possible case scenario for a divorce is when both partners agree wholeheartedly that the marriage has “run its course” and that separation is in the best interest for the family. How often does that happen, though? We know that, on average, there is one spouse who wants to leave, and one who wishes the marriage to remain intact; that’s where the emotional “tug-of-war” begins.
Often, spouses who do not wish to be divorced may present themselves as thoughtful, peaceful, and cooperative. This feels like resignation or acceptance to the divorcing spouse, and is frequently misinterpreted as an intention to conduct the divorce in a peaceful manner. When the non-divorcing spouse realizes that the action is moving forward (despite best efforts to be amicable), that is when the sniping and defensive behavior sets in. They have nothing to lose at that point, and no longer feel compelled to “play nice.”
Other aspects that can turn an amicable divorce into a war include:
Proof of infidelity.
Irresponsible financial transactions prior to the legal separation. Some spouses may increase debt or make purchases immediately before announcing their intention to divorce, knowing that the debt will be equally shared pending financial settlement.
One or more spouses begin dating before the divorce has been finalized.
Subjecting children to unnecessary stress, or asking children to choose sides.
Dishonesty regarding earnings, investments, and other assets of the marriage.
Emotional, physical, or verbal abuse during the separation or divorce.
It is very difficult to navigate a divorce on amicable terms, because for many people, the experience signifies the end of financial and emotional support and stability, the dissolution of family life, the potential sale of the family home, and a frequently hurtful dialogue between both partners. Creating an amicable divorce is harder than declaring war on your partner, but psychologists agree that the effort is worth the reward, as couples exiting as friends through a divorce recover more quickly and are more successful after the transition.
Long before partners consult with a divorce attorney, they can (and should) try to establish a code of conduct that will govern the long process of getting a legal divorce. Many couples decide to put in writing an agreement that can help them stick to the rules, without the emotional sniping that typically accompanies a hostile divorce.
The truth is that being vindictive, abusive, or difficult during a divorce is counterproductive. It can be difficult to think about the dissolution of a marriage as a business matter, but it is a contract. With the drafting of a written and legal separation agreement, couples can privately draft their own code of divorce conduct, and agree to exit the relationship as healthy, well-balanced adults, ready to transition into a new chapter in life.
Have you ever heard the saying that “the only person who wins in a divorce is the lawyer?” The truth is that infighting, disputes, and resistance to the divorce by one spouse can result in unnecessary and excessive litigation, court dates, multiple signed agreements, and other services that can chalk up a very large legal bill quickly.
Some divorcing couples agree to use the same lawyer to save on legal administrative costs. This works, if the couple intends to be mutually cooperative to expedite the divorce with as little conflict as possible. The second that there is significant push-back from one spouse, the need for two lawyers (one for each partner) becomes a necessity. The consequence? Double the legal bills, which come out of the division of the estate and assets.
Kids are the silent victims of divorce. In the maelstrom of emotional, financial, and legal wrangling, children can be left behind and fail to receive the nurturing and support they desperately need to process the changes in their family life in a healthy way. There is literally so much going on that parents who are overwhelmed in divorce proceedings can fail to recognize signs of stress in children.
Depending on the age of the child, temper outbursts, low school grades, weight gain, and depression are all indicators of a child in crisis. Abnormal behaviors including violence, bullying, or destruction of property can also be outward signs and a plea for support from a child. Parents must put the needs of the children first by refusing to argue or fight in front of kids, and remember to remove them from the home environment even temporarily, if hostility ensues.
Love her or hate her, Gwyneth Paltrow is generally on trend, and we think her example may inspire a new concept of a mutually beneficial, friendly divorce. And that’s a good thing.