Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce; most involve children. For decades, those children didn’t have much of a chance to experience cordial co-parenting, caught as they were in the verbal crossfire between two people they loved.
Ugly scenarios still play out regularly, but no longer exclusively. Instead of twisting in a win-lose court system, a growing number of parents are turning to a win-win world inhabited by a new breed of largely non-legal professionals.
Businesses are springing up in support of successful post-divorce parenting. Ourfamilywizard.com, for example, is a scheduling Web site designed to help families manage the chaos of daily activities from different addresses.
On a recent episode of "All of Us," on the CW Network, divorced Mom and Dad do a "nesting" scenario, in which they move in and out of the family home so their son doesn’t have to.
And last fall, Ford aired a controversial TV commercial as part of its "Bold Moves" campaign, in which a family spends a delightful weekend shopping, driving and hanging out at the beach. At the end of the day, though, Dad is dropped off at his apartment.
"Thanks for inviting me this weekend," he says as he hugs his kids and mom throws him a bittersweet smile.
Bloggers had plenty to say about the ad, some chiding Ford for putting Daddy in a "sad, recent-divorce condo complex." But one viewer wrote: "I thought the ad was bold and innovative. It portrays a post-divorce husband and wife who are working together to provide a normal life for their children."
"In spite of all evidence of high conflict everywhere, there’s a thread of a better way to do this," said Deborah Clemmensen, a licensed psychologist and child specialist. "There’s a belief that there can be more respectful and dignified ways to relieve conflict. The minute you start on that path, you keep going."
That path includes these three ideals:
• Keep families out of court. The legal system, it turns out, is a terrible place for children and their divorcing parents, not only according to psychologists, but judges and lawyers, too. Divorce cases aren’t like fine wines, improving with age. They turn uglier and more expensive, until any chance for kindness or reconciliation is crushed.
The goal: Get families in and out as quickly as possible, using mental health professionals and mediators to uncover emotional landmines and detonate them quickly.
• Minimize custody evaluations. These evaluations are generally brutal on kids. They take up to four months and include interviews with both parents, the children, teachers, observations at school and the opening of school and medical records.
The goal: Avoid evaluations in all but the most complicated cases. Give parents options and encourage them to decide what’s best for their children with parenting time and other issues.
• Emphasize that divorcing parents can still be excellent co-parents. Divorced couples are often much better at being good co-parents living separately than being in a marriage that made them unhappy, said Terri Romanoff-Newman, a licensed psychologist whose clientele is primarily divorcing couples.
The goal: Give couples a chance to feel proud and successful as co-parents and build on that success.
Romanoff-Newman gives parents all the time they need to get there. "(I tell them:) ‘You’re going to be the best co-parents in the world," she said. "Just give it a chance.’"