A Cooperative Approach to Divorce

By: Sabrina Grogan | March 16, 2021

What Would You Do?

A Cooperative Approach to Divorce looks to provide a socially, morally and ethically acceptable path through a difficult situation. Journalist John Quinones, in his popular television show on ABC, “What Would You Do?,” asks his viewers to ponder what they would do when confronted with an ethical, social or moral dilemma.  If you found a wallet with no identification but $1,000 cash, would you try to find out who owned it?  Would you take it to the police?  Give the money to charity?  Or would you pocket the cash (and maybe donate 10% to ease the moral sting)?  The show challenges us to be brutally honest about how we would react when faced with these dilemmas.  The upside of this is that the people being filmed, who don’t know they are on a television show, very often make the “right” choice. 

Spouses going through divorce are faced every day with moral quandaries and have to decide whether to make the “right” choice.   Often this means acting in a way contrary to their feelings, opinions and even their own best interests.  After all, what is morally wrong about telling your children that their mother is committing adultery?  It’s true, isn’t it?  Mom made that choice and the kids deserve to know the truth.  What is wrong with telling your son you can’t afford karate lessons because his father hasn’t paid child support?  It’s true, isn’t it?  Dad can afford it; he is just trying to hurt Mom by withholding the payments.

And yet you are being told that no, you really shouldn’t say these things.  And if you choose to handle your case using a Cooperative Approach to Divorce, your lawyer will reiterate this message again and again.*  There are several reasons for this, which you probably already know instinctively.  Young children in particular idolize their parents and this illusion of parental perfection is important to their sense of well-being and security.   A lying parent, a cheating parent, cannot protect them from “bad guys” and bogeymen.  They will learn soon enough that their parents are only human with human flaws.  Why take this illusion of superhero mom or superhero dad away from them prematurely?

If a child feels that one parent needs their protection because the other parent is harming that parent, this could lead to not wanting to visit with or even communicate with the other parent.  Being alienated from a parent is a terrible thing for a child.  It is misery for everyone, except perhaps for the parent who has “won.”

Children need to be free to be children.  This includes teenagers.  They know nothing of the laws regarding custody, visitation, and child support, nor should they.   They are not your friends or confidantes, at least when it comes to your divorce from their father or mother.  Let them focus on school, extracurricular and social activities.   They are already experiencing their own divorce – they don’t need to experience yours as well.

And of course, the “truth” is a tricky thing.  If asked about her adultery, Mom might say that she has been in a bad marriage for years, she has been verbally and emotionally abused, that she begged her husband to attend marriage counseling but was told “I don’t need counseling.  There’s nothing wrong with me.”  And she finally met and was -understandably- attracted to someone who showed her kindness, love and respect.  That’s her truth, or at least what she claims.  Who knows?  And how are the children of the marriage supposed to know or be able to sift through the conflicting “truths” of their parents?

When you engage in a Cooperative process, you and your spouse commit to leaving the children out of the conflict to the greatest extent you possibly can.  This is IN SPITE OF the fact that perhaps your spouse has cheated, or failed to pay support.  Divorces where the parties are friendly and do the right thing all the time are rare, and easy.  Cooperative law principles apply, but aren’t most needed, where the parties are already cooperating.  A Cooperative Approach to Divorce is most urgently needed for flawed humans whose marriage is ending and who sometimes do mean-spirited, foolish things, but who still realize that they, and their families, are better off reaching an amicable resolution of the difficult issues they are facing.  They see the two roads, and decide to take the higher (and smoother) one, together.

What would you do?

*This article does not apply to situations of domestic abuse.

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