By Justin Parker, PhD | Licensed Psychologist & Educational Consultant
Though you once played on the same team, divorce has you feeling like you’re playing on opposite sides of the court. But in the game of divorce, keeping score and blocking shots means no one wins.
A very experienced attorney-mediator once told me he felt a courtroom to be one of the worst places to resolve family disputes surrounding separation and divorce. People envision a courtroom as a place where one side is found to be either “guilty” or “not guilty” of what they are alleged to have done. While you may want a judge to hear your side of the story and affirm that your spouse is either 1) lazy, 2) a bad parent, 3) unfaithful, or 4) all of the above, that is generally not what happens in a family law courtroom.
I cannot remember a time I left the courtroom after a judge’s ruling in a family law matter and felt like one spouse or the other got a clear “win.”
Perhaps a better way to think about your situation as you separate is not on opposing teams, but still on the same team with a different definition of “scoring” and what determines a “win.” Before, a “win” might have been:
- Being financially successful
- Being able to meet each other’s needs emotionally and physically
- Raising happy, successful children if you choose to have them
After separation, a “win” for your new “team” would be:
- Dividing the marital assets and debts in a wise, thoughtful, and tax-conscious way (score!)
- Making sure your transition from one household to two households is as financially pain-free as possible, given the income each of you may have (score!)
Interestingly, if you have children, the last “win” should look the same on either team: raising happy, successful children (you win the championship!).
As is typically the case, when children’s interests are considered, the game completely changes. Prior to separation, it was easy to identify the “teams.” You and your spouse were charged with keeping your children safe, secure, and happy. After separation, you will continue to have those goals, but the “teams” may no longer seem clear. When disagreements occur, it is easy to forget that both parents want what is best for their children. Because both parents are striving for the same goal (to win the championship!) they need to continue to see themselves as on the same team: the co-parenting team.
In sports, there are many examples of teams with great talent that somehow couldn’t come together to be a great team. We often hear this blamed on lack of chemistry on the team. A lack of chemistry and fighting among team members is like a flu virus on a team–nobody can seem to find the cure, but everyone is affected by it, and the team suffers. This is what happens when parents fight. The children can’t figure out how to make it stop and are hurt by it every time they are exposed to it. The more the parents try to “provide more cure” (that is, make their case in front of their kids), the worse it is for the kids. So, to keep the team safe and happy, keep the viruses away from the kids, and don’t expose them to the fighting!