Can there be such a thing as a “good divorce”?

Denise Head

January 7, 2022

Can there be such a thing as a “good divorce”?

In this article (first published in Families Suffolk in January 2022), Denise Head examines Resolution’s “Parenting through Separation Guide” and the concept of a “good divorce”.

As I start to write this article, it is “Good Divorce Week 2021”. This annual campaign is an initiative by Resolution, the membership organisation for professionals that work with separating families.  The aim of “Good Divorce Week 2021” is to “kickstart a national conversation about how parents can embrace a child-focused approach to separation,” with the emphasis on having a constructive approach to “parenting after parting” and to show that there is always another, positive way to separate together.

Of course, not all divorces involve children; but dealing with two separating adults is a very different dynamic than when helping a family and where children are involved too.

The nature of the process means that the adults are unvested in and focussed on the dispute between them, but, for better or for worse, children are procedurally side-lined and yet are often, and inevitably, caught in an emotional crossfire of warring parents, made more imbalanced by the fact that more often than not, one parent is suffering more trauma from the breakup than the other.

So as parents navigate their way through the emotional and traumatic events following the end of a relationship, is it possible to have “a good divorce”, at least for the children’s sake?

Far too often, bitterness on the side of the party who has been left by the other, means things are said which are neither constructive or helpful to the prospects of co-parenting. Comments such as “your father/mother has not just left me, he/she has left you” are all too common. As “The Good Divorce Week” guide points out, “parents may often find it difficult to separate their couple feelings from their parenting feelings and it is this clash that can get in the way of allowing an ongoing relationship with the children, for the non-residential parent”. I would add that the statement can apply to both parents and not just the parent who leaves the family home.

Parenting is never easy but, when a couple are separated, we tend to refer to it as “co-parenting”. The “co” perhaps comes into play to emphasise the need for additional effort to work together, a state assumed if you are indeed, together.  Putting the needs of your children first is a difficult path to tread, certainly in the immediate aftermath of separation, but it will hopefully become easier as families, and children, adapt to independent households, different parenting styles and new relationships. There are no hard and fast rules, but it is generally accepted, and indeed proven, that children cope well if long-term parental conflict is minimised. Each parent must develop their own coping strategies to deal with the breakup of their relationship whilst embracing the concept that being a parent is a role for life. Talking with your children about how things will change is a good start.  If this can be with both parents present and singing from the same hymn sheet and when all of your children are present, so much the better. Children need reassurance that everything will be alright but that it is okay to feel sad or scared and showing emotion is good and showing a willingness to talk to them about how they are feeling will add to feelings of safety and security, in spite of the difficult situation between parents.

Remember, as parents we are role models and children are watching to see we are still their parents, and still making decisions together. As the Guide concludes: “When co-parenting works well, it means your child is held in a safe parental bubble and can grow up with a good attitude towards relationships. A good co-parenting relationship can really enhance a child’s life.”

If you would like to access the Guide in full please go to the Resolution website .

For further advice about separation and children, please do not hesitate to contact me or my colleague Scott Emsden.

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