Family Law Unraveled

The latest from Margaret's blog

The Good Divorce

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The culture of divorce is shifting, in tune with the times. How many of us have commented on the fluidity of our children’s relationships with friends with whom they become – and un-become – romantically involved? We say: Interesting.  When I broke up with my high school boyfriend I never spoke to him again.  But that’s not the way of the new generation.  And their parents are developing different attitudes towards ending romantic relationships as well: the idea that divorce reconfigures, rather than “breaks” a family; the notion that divorced parents can remain friendly, even if no longer friends. Take bird-nesting – the increasingly common practice where parents rotate in and out of the marital home and the kids stay put.  Or the intent many of my clients now have that their children’s birthdays, and often certain holidays as well, will be celebrated together with their ex-spouses.  As one father told me, We think it’s important for us both to be there on Christmas morning when they open their presents.  And of course the corollary to that, the unspoken assumption, is that while my client and his ex-wife sit there in her (his former) living room, they will be civil to each other and they will focus on their children, not their conflicts.

Methods for divorcing are changing as well. There is growing interest in collaborative divorce, where each spouse has an attorney, subject to a mutual commitment not to litigate.  Or mediation, where the couple themselves negotiate the terms of their divorce agreement with the help of a neutral facilitator.  Or what I think of as the kitchen table divorce, where the parties sit down together and just figure it out. Is this part of a look-it-up-on-the internet, DIY ethos? Or are today’s divorcing couples members of a generation whose worlds were so rocked by the acrimonious divorces of their parents during the divorce explosion of the 70s and 80s that they swear they will not do the same to their children? Whatever the reason, the trend is toward self-determination.

Ever attend a divorce ceremony?  Me neither, but they’re gaining traction, fast.  A ritual to mark the end of a marriage, it can be just the couple themselves or performed before family and friends. They’re all the rage in Japan, with a popular format including the smashing of wedding rings and a special “divorce dress” designed to emphasize the woman’s back as she walks away from her soon-to-be ex-husband. Really!  See one at

I know that to some, perhaps many, “good divorce” is an oxymoron.  For sure, not everyone can have one, because many people getting divorced are too angry or too sad to imagine salvaging anything out of the wreckage.  But cultural expectation does inform our reaction to life events, and the expectation has been, until recently, that divorce is disaster and the best way to deal with it is to distance yourself as much as possible from your ex, to have as little contact with him or her as possible.  And it is precisely that expectation which is shifting.  As some of my clients would say, That was my parents’ divorce. Not mine.

2 thoughts on “The Good Divorce

  1. Mike says:

    Most parents who went through a failed relationship have become more mature. They now take their children into account, and not just their own feelings and problems. The result of this is they can better fulfill their roles as parents to their children.

    Mike Clark

  2. David Cohen says:

    I agree with a lot of your views. The collaborative way to divorce.

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