No. 2: Not using the children as weapons
Apart from fighting over the money (or lack of it), what also drives many couples who initially set out to conduct a non-adversarial divorce into a long and bitter struggle, are disagreements over access to the children.
This is a very tricky area because children bring up huge complex emotions in their parents – who may be dealing with intense feelings of guilt, depression, fear for the future – and also jealousy and bitterness that may until then have been suppressed.
Sometimes families remain very amicable during a split until one of them gets a new boyfriend/girlfriend, and then all hell breaks loose. I have heard of kids who have to change out of clothes bought by the Ex’s new partner before going home to the other parent, and those children having to live completely parallel lives.
I’m not trying to tell you that this will happen to your family – but it is a strange kind of madness that overcomes us when we go through a challenging life change and it is easier than you might think to find yourself using the children as weapons. It’s something I’ve had to remain very conscious of over the years and luckily, my kids are now trained to tell me off when they feel I am putting them in a difficult position or am saying anything negative about their dad. All three of them would make excellent policemen!
What is key to remember, is that those children are half you, half your ex – so if you say anything negative about their mum or dad, you are also being negative about your kids.
So how does putting my kids first keep me away from the adversarial lawyers?
If you have children, then you have a fantastic constant reminder why a nasty divorce is going to be a really bad idea. It is easy to blame an adversarial divorce on the Ex partner who may well be behaving irrationally, rudely, or just plain mean. But the damage to children who have experienced conflict between their parents is well documented and long-term.
Let’s be honest – it takes two people to have a fight – and no matter how disempowered or even bullied you may feel, there is still a great deal you can do to keep the doors of a less nasty divorce unbolted and inviting.
I know, I know – I hear you cry “That’s all very well, Suzy, but how can I have an amicable divorce if my Ex is sending nasty lawyer’s letters by the dozen?” But the fact is, you don’t have to waste money on the scale that your Ex is – and you don’t have to express your anger and upset in front of the children. What I’m saying is – if you can manage to talk respectfully about a parent in front of their children, then you can maintain that composure when dealing with your Ex, leaving the door open to mediation or even relationship coaching instead. They may not respond the way you want for some time – but by staying on course and not allowing them to push your buttons, then often that anger dies away and many a furious Ex has ‘woken up’ at a later date, decided they are bored of spending so much money on an adversarial approach which drags on interminably, and decided to settle in an amicable fashion.
Ask yourself: is the professional advice I am being given have the best interests of my children at heart?
Dragging children into the court proceedings over child access is never going to be a good experience for them. Making sure you do get access is one thing – but some parents end up going to court over a matter of a few weekends in a year – but at what cost to their kids? We have rights as parents to be with our children – but what about the children’s rights? We may need help to keep a sane perspective. This is not the job of lawyers – they are trained to know the law, not what’s best for our children.
But the good news is – and it IS good news – is that even in very adversarial divorce cases, if one of you doesn’t burn all the bridges, if one of you acts with grace and intelligence, then even on your darkest days you will know that your children are learning valuable lessons in how to deal with difficult life situations. You are their role model. And you will be stronger and full of compassion when you make your children the centre of how you choose to conduct your divorce, and the quality of support you may choose to engage to help and empower you will reflect that. By steering an amicable course as much as is possible to do so, despite the obstacles, you are laying the groundwork for a solid future for your family, even if that family is now an extended one rather than all living in the same house.
Parenting coaches can be invaluable at this time – for supporting the kids and of course you yourself. They can also sometimes provide a bridge between your kids and both their parents, as an angry Ex may pay more attention to advice from such an expert than they will to any of your demands! There are also online software packages such as Kids On Time (www.kidsontime.com) which allow you to schedule the children’s diary online, inviting in childminders and even therapists or mediators if you so wish – and so you can avoid having to send emails/texts to your Ex if that is one of the ways that acrimony is being fuelled.
Descriptions of the roles of key professionals and experts can be seen in the Alternative Divorce Guide package that includes booklets, a resource DVD and vouchers for free initial conversations with top experts in their fields. The Alternative Divorce Organiser is also included and this provides answers to many common questions, and introductions to the relevant experts on our Alternative Divorce Directory.
In the meantime, look out for the next email in this series which will explain the Number 3 Top Must-Do in keeping your divorce away from adversarial lawyers…….