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. If someone becomes abusive, develops a nasty addiction, or commits adultery, I think we would agree 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 aren’t right for each other anymore, as seems to be the case between Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. Either way, there is 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 doesn’t 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 dads I know want to be involved in their children’s lives, and (2) the fact is most courts want to support father’s rights to be involved because all the data we have collected over the 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.
Every week I have to broker deals between parents, and I really do sometimes wonder how these two individuals that now despise each other could have at one point been so in love that they wanted to get busy and have a child together. The reality that I have to help them face is that you don’t get to dictate how the other person should parent. We each have a right to parent our kids the way we want (obviously within legal limits) and when you are no longer under the same roof, you cannot micro-manage what goes in another person’s household.
When you cease to be a team in one house, you don’t cease to be a family. My job is to reorganize families, reassign duties and create a time-sharing arrangement that works for everyone involved– especially the kids. Most families I work with actually work better under the re-structured format because now there is a concrete schedule and financial obligations are clear. 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 couldn’t last 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-org is easy for me, I’ve lived through it personally and do it every day for my clients. But what breaks my heart is when someone speaks about the other parent in a very derogatory manner, and often I hope beyond hope that this is just a temporary phase that someone is going through, and that they will eventually gain control of their anger and/or disappointment. While it is sad that the partnership did not work out, that doesn’t 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.
We will all die one day, and when that day comes for me I hope that half of me will live on in my child, and I also know that half of his father will also live on through him. The person that won my heart 20 years ago may no longer be my spouse, but there is a bond that will never be broken because we created a life together, and with each day that has passed since our divorce I respect that gift more and more. This doesn’t mean I want to rekindle the past, it just means that I have come to peace with where we are today. It’s not an overnight process, but it can be done– I see plenty do it every day.
With the rest of the time you have left on Earth, you have 2 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’s not going to send a good message to your kids. The latter is a very wise, healthy choice for everyone involved.
Til death to you part is indeed true when you have kids, so choose that partner very carefully– it’s not just about fun and games, but will that person be there for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad? If not for you, then at least for your little ones. That is the key part of the marriage vows that I still believe have relevance, even today. So, although my marriage did not last, I am proud of the parents we have become and the child we are raising together. All was not for nothing, and I hope you will feel the same way too.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.