No one I know still believes that because someone says, “I do” at the alter, s/he is really stuck with someone forever, especially if things get ugly. Most would agree that if someone becomes abusive, develops a nasty addiction, or commits adultery, these are all valid grounds for abandoning ship, but sometimes you do just grow apart and without any major incidents two people can simply come to the unfortunate realization that they just are not right for each other anymore. Either way, while the legal system is well-equipped to resolve these matters, there remains one little complicating factor that will prevent these couples from making a clean break: kids.
If you have a child with someone, whether or not you actually walked down that aisle together, you are going to have a really hard time cutting all ties. Even if someone does not want to be involved on a weekly basis, there are major decisions affecting a child’s health, education and financial well being that parents are going to have to discuss. Gaining sole legal custody or sole physical custody in the 21st century is rare, and here is why: (1) most parents want to be involved in their children’s lives, and (2) the fact is most courts want to support joint custody because all the data we have collected over the last 40 years shows that children thrive when they have two involved parents that they can see on a regular basis and count on for their basic needs.
The legal reality is that once a Custody Order that addresses a schedule and financial support for the children is either submitted by consent, or entered by the courts, the case files are closed, but for parents that is exactly when the tough work of learning how to manage the children’s expenses and coordinate schedule changes or special events without Big Brother watching or attorneys on stand-by. This is when successful co-parents quickly learn that they cannot micromanage or dictate how the other person should parent, and instead they start to pick their battles wisely.
When you cease to be a team in one house, you do not cease to be a family. What simply happens in a family reorganization is that duties have been reassigned and a new time-sharing arrangement has been established that hopefully will promote the children’s best interests. Indeed, most families I work with actually work better under the re-structured format because now the tension/friction with all in one house is gone, and the parents are able to move forward with a concrete schedule and clear financial obligations. What parents have to realize is that children did not ask to be born into this world, and it is not their fault that their parents could not stay together, but it is absolutely their right to be loved and cared for by both to the best of each parent’s capacity.
Working through a re-organization is not easy, but most learn quickly that it is important gain control of their anger and/or disappointment, especially around the children. While it is sad that their parent’s partnership did not work out, that does not mean you throw the baby out with the bath water. Any decent parent will quickly realize that the child should not suffer for the sins of his/her parents, and as a result most parents do work well together (even though apart) to minimize the disruption and havoc in the lives of their children.
In the end, parents have two choices upon divorce: (1) regret the day you ever met your spouse, or (2) give thanks for the good times and the children you had together. The former will drive you crazy, and it is not going to send a good message to your kids. The latter is a very wise, healthy choice for everyone involved. More importantly, those that do opt for a healthy and optimistic outlook demonstrate to their kids that we should not crumble when we suffer a setback in life, but rather we must face life’s challenges as they come and keep moving forward.
Setbacks are an inevitable part of life, but what defines us is how we chose to face the trials and tribulations we encounter in life. Every day I see people take a great personal tragedy and turn it into a success story– with their new-found freedom they find courage and strength, tempered with a little humility, and ultimately they do not just survive, they thrive.
So. when the fairy tale ending does not quite work out, I suggest you embrace those stories about true grit. But with kids in the picture, there is no escaping the fact that “til death to you part” is indeed true, for the duty to raise our children together (even if apart) is a lifetime commitment that continues long after we end our marriage vows.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.