December is a relatively slow time of year for marital and family law attorneys. Mostly because this is the time of year when couples, even if they know they are about to divorce, try to maintain civility for one more Christmas so that that the children will not suffer. But what if this civility could continue through the “last Christmas” and set the tone for the relationship between the divorced couple for the rest of their lives? Before you smirk at the suggestion, let me tell you the stories of two divorced couples and their 2012 Christmas.
The first couple, I will call the Kranks. They have two daughters, ages 8 and 4. This couple is going through a bitter divorce (flashback to War of the Roses). Per their temporary child timesharing agreement entered into 15 months ago, the two girls spent Christmas Eve morning with their father, Mr. Krank. A little before noon, Mr. Krank loaded up the girls, taking them away from the cousins they were playing with at the family Christmas Eve party and drove in Christmas Eve traffic to Target. Precisely at noon, Mrs. Krank pulled into the parking lot, and opened her van doors. Mr. Krank helped the girls out of his car, hugged them and they quickly loaded them into their mother’s van. No words were spoken between Mr. and Mrs. Krank, as they had confirmed all the plans for the holiday weekend via email, copying their attorneys of course.
On Christmas morning, the girls awoke to Santa’s majesty, but were quickly whisked away to attend Mrs. Krank’s family Christmas gathering. The girls were just in the middle of dessert when mom told them to quickly give their hugs and kisses, say thank you to their family members for the gifts and load up in the car. Mrs. Krank noticed the sad look on their faces as they pulled away from their grandparent’s house and paused to let the girls run back in and say good bye again. Now headed to Target again, Mrs. Krank glanced at the clock on the dash and noticed that she was 5 minutes late already. By the time she got to the Target parking lot, Mr. Krank had already texted his family law attorney about his wife’s tardiness and was waiting impatiently. Twenty minutes later, an apologetic Mrs. Krank arrived and hurriedly said goodbye to the girls as Mr. Kank muttered under his breath to his wife, “I will see you in court!” Mrs. Krank scowled, “Bring it!” The girls buckled their seatbelts, and leaned on each other while silent tears puddled in their eyes and knots formed in their stomachs.
The second couple, Mr. and Ms. Merry, went through a divorce earlier this year. This was their first Christmas as divorced parents. They have three children, twin eight year old boys and a seven year old daughter. During the first week of December, the couple talked on the phone about their ideas and obligations for the upcoming holiday. On Christmas Eve, Ms. Merry had a gathering of family and friends at her home. She expected lots of guests and the event was scheduled to last all day. That morning the children were so excited they called Mr. Merry to find out what time he was coming over. By mid-day, the house was full of family and friends including Mr. Merry. The kids played while Ms. Merry played hostess. Mr. Merry talked with Ms. Merry’s family members and even Ms. Merry’s new boyfriend. Several of the guests commented to Ms. Merry how nice it was that the children’s father was there and how amazed they were at how everyone interacted with him. By late afternoon, being respectful of his former wife’s time with the children, Mr. Merry decided to leave. He gave long hugs and kisses to the kids. Ms. Merry gave a friendly hug to Mr. Merry as they said goodbye at the door. The kids were eager to keep playing with their friends, and were confident enough to let dad leave without tears or insecurity as they were sure that their parents had figured out a schedule that would allow them to get the most out of their holiday.
The next morning, the kids awoke to Santa’s majesty. The kids called Mr. Merry to report on Santa’s loot. Looking around the home that looked like Christmas had exploded on it, Ms. Merry told the kids to get dressed to go to their grandparent’s home. At grandma and grandpas the kids enjoyed more friends and family and Christmas lunch. When it looked like lunch was going to take a little longer than expected, Ms. Merry texted Mr. Merry and asked him if it was ok if they could exchange the children thirty or forty five minutes later. It was no problem for Mr. Merry since he knew that pulling the kids from the Christmas table would cause them unnecessary stress and anxiety. At 3 pm that day, Ms. Merry took the kids to their dad’s house, she lingered a short time inside to hear the kids tell dad about the gifts they received. Then she kissed and hugged the children good bye. By bedtime, the kids were exhausted from excitement of the day, not from family stress.
Now, I know you may be rolling your eyes at these two couples thinking that they represent the real extremes of the spectrum, but these are the events from two actual local couples. You may ask what the difference is in why they were able to put their differences aside and really work together to determine what was best for their children. It wasn’t the severity of the issues that were relevant in their divorce; in fact, the couple with the more extreme issues would be the Merry’s. The difference lies, in great part, to the WAY they divorced. Although they had significant issues to muddle through in the process of divorce, Mr. and Ms. Merry did not want to fight with each other. They divorced in an amicable, collaborative way, focusing on the needs of the children and attempting to repair their relationship to the fullest extent possible so that they could be good co-parents in the future. They never considered “going to Court” to iron out their differences, but agreed from the beginning that they would reach a mutually agreed upon settlement. They hired attorneys that understood that they wanted the divorce to be the END of the marital strife and not the beginning.
Mr. and Mrs. Krank on the other hand, looked for attorneys who would be willing to “go for the jugular” and really punish the other for the wrongs he/she committed. As a result, the couple cannot communicate about even the most menial topic without pulling in their lawyers, consequently everything becomes a fight. The children are in constant inner turmoil, despite their outward appearances. The Krank’s have not found the maturity they need to be able to pull themselves together for their children; and every member of the Krank family is suffering because of it. Meanwhile, the Krank’s are getting poorer and their divorce lawyers are getting richer, leaving less for themselves or their children as the time clocks run with two attorney’s time.
There is a better way to divorce. Collaborative Divorce is a new method that allows the divorcing parties to sort through their issues and learn to work together to care for their children. When a couple enters into the Collaborative process, they agree that Mom and Dad will decide how their children will be raised and how time with their children will be shared, not a judge. The process is perfect for the couple who wants to have a better relationship with each other as single people than they did while married to each other so that they can focus on what’s really important to them both, their precious children and years of happy Christmas’ future.