While the old-style, adversarial divorce positioned marriage and divorce as opposite ends of the relationship spectrum, the truth is often a different story. Divorce allows some couples to get along better, my ex-husband and myself included.
Increasingly, we're seeing stories of former couples who have restructured their relationship into something less intense and more functional. I really liked this piece in the The New York Times about couples living close together for their children. The paper positioned it as a "New York thing," but I know people around the country similarly choosing to stay close for their children's sake, and their own.
Legal innovations are a huge part of the progress. Collaborative law, for example, still somewhat new, is a legal approach in which both spouses hire a lawyer, but each lawyer signs a contract to settle the case out of court. This agreement to settle out of court enables both spouses to be honest about their real desires and real concerns, and get the help they need without fearing it will be used against them in a court battle.
Settling out of court may seem like a minor detail, but it can make a huge difference not only in the kind of agreement you wind up with but also your psychological state.
A friend of mine in Santa Monica who did not take the collaborative route, was in and out of court with her ex for years. Her co-parenting arrangement, court battles and contentious involvement with her ex was making her miserable, as was her view of her situation. When I suggested (kindly, I hope) that she consider seeing a therapist, she flat out refused: "If that got back to the judge that I sought help, it could weaken my case," she said.
This is a perfect example of how the old-style adversarial process destroys families in an on-going way. Fortunately, more and more people are seeking help not only with their own emotional state, but also with their skill at interacting with an ex.
"There’s been a movement to make divorce less contentious," says George Washington University law professor Naomi Cahn, co-author of Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family.
"In the past six years, a dozen states plus Washington D.C. have enacted the Uniform Collaborative Law act. It represents the use of collaborative law and an effort to standardized it. The fact that there is such a thing is pretty exciting.”
The Uniform Collaborative Law act is just one example of how the law increasingly supports today's good divorce, and is catching up with the reality of modern family life. As more divorcing and separating couples chose collaborative approaches to parting, we'll likely hear more stories of decent divorces, and happy, well-adjusted families—whatever the marital status of the parents.
*A version of this post originally appeared on Wendy Paris's website, wendyparis.com.
Wendy Paris is the author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well (Simon & Schuster/Atria, 2016). Splitopia and her work on divorce have been covered by The New York Times, Real Simple, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Globe & Mail, Psychology Today, The Houston Chronicle, Salon.com, Parents.com, Family Law Quarterly, PsychCentral.com and radio and TV shows nationwide. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and is an advocate for family law reform. She is divorced, and lives in Santa Monica, California, a few blocks from her former husband, with whom she has a warm co-parenting relationship.