Why is Divorce a “Four-Letter Word”?

By Danielle A. Smith
Reprinted from the Michigan Family Law Journal

When the occurrence of divorce is so rampant, shouldn’t we honestly value our children and families more than the actual Institution of Marriage?

Isn’t there room in our culture for healthy restructured families or newly defined families and does our culture truly believe that children need both parents?

If the answer to these questions is “YES,” then why from the very beginning of a divorce, are the parents of children automatically set up as adversaries?

Isn’t it financially beneficial to the current process to en- courage the emotional discord and distrust between divorcing spouses and to promote an unreasonable antagonistic posi- tion? (More motions, more briefs, more court appearances, = more polarization and contempt between spouses)?

Sometimes intimidation tactics are used and other times denigrating the other parent or opposing counsel is the strategy. How is this productive in the lives of these people down the road? How is this helpful for their children? And how does encouraging a revenge-seeking spouse make him/her more whole by punishing the other spouse?

Why do we tie child support to the amount of time each parent spends with the children creating further parental animosity for both parents; the payer and the payee!? In reality, isn’t the financial picture more about the available resources in each specific family?

Why is it necessary to take a family’s finances and force each parent to fight individually over these limited and finite resources, rather than looking at the whole picture and determining what is available to make sure children are financially secure and comfortable in both of their parents’ homes? Is it healthy to have children eating caviar and steak in one parent’s home and noodles in the other parent’s home, just because one of the parents “lost” in court?

Why are former spouses sometimes discouraged from discussing with each other their own future, their children, or anything else regarding their lives during the divorce?

What is constructive about determining the responsibility of one spouse or both spouses for failure or breakdown of the marriage? If one spouse seeks retribution, how does that assist that spouse’s future relationship with his or her children and the children’s other parent? What tangible benefit truly derives from assigning blame?

And when the divorce is final, when the judge, the Friend of the Court, and the lawyers are gone from their lives, how does knowing which spouse was at fault help the family move forward? And furthermore, how will this approach help coparenting in the future? Wouldn’t it be more constructive to help each of them deal with the current and palpable hurt, stress, and trauma of the breakdown of a marriage?

What if the goal was NOT to destroy a relationship that needs to have ongoing affirmative interaction? What if the normal way to divorce was civilized and dignified? What if using alternative ways of resolving conflict was the norm?

Constructive resolution to conflict can greatly assist a family going through the ravages of divorce. Instead of fanning the flames of their emotional trauma, helping both of them vent and understand their feelings in a respectful and valued manner, is much more productive for all concerned. The parents gain confidence and a feeling of success when they can take control over their own destinies. They derive positive consequences from incremental successes during negotiation and their resulting agreements that apply only to their specific circumstances. These paradigms are particularly beneficial for the children of a divorced family because the parents can be- come creative and are not limited to “cookie-cutter” solutions to their real life circumstances.

These approaches can further serve to provide a framework and model for healthy communication and problem solving skills for future issues. Facilitative Mediation and the Collaborative Divorce Process can arm estranged couples with valuable tools to be able to co-parent in the future.

We are all “hard-wired” for the fight or flight syndrome when confronted with stress and upheavals in our homeosta- sis. And our IQ drops 30 points during this state of panic. People are scared, their lives are changing, they worry about the future, they worry about their children, they worry about their finances, so they are in a state of terror. When these alternative methods are used to normalize these reactions for clients, they can understand their own emotional state and can slowly begin to see and empathize with the emotional reaction of the other parent who is also going through his or her own trauma during the end of a marriage.

The public is hungry for better ways of solving problems and professionals are stressed to the maximum when they have to act as gladiators with little or no positive impact on their clients’ future lives.

If raising children in a healthy manner and making sure they have a strong and bonded relationship with both parents is our societies’ goal, then what happens to the children of parents who go through the highly conflicted adversarial divorce, with no compass, once the divorce is final?

We all know the answer, but we all persist! And we all have the power to change “the four-letter word” and the way people get divorced.