A divorce (or a breakup for unmarried folks) doesn’t always mean the end of the couple’s relationship. Partners with children necessarily will be interacting for years to come, maybe forever. And many couples without kids still choose to remain connected post-break-up. Our relationships change when we separate, but often continue in a different form.
Most relationships included deep connections and hopes for a joint future. Maintaining a connection after a break-up honors our efforts in the years we were together. Some couples know right away that they wish to remain friends, while others are unsure if that’s achievable. Either way, partners should choose a separation process that preserves the opportunity for future relations. We can’t burn bridges that we might later want to cross together.
Often, separating partners have close connections to a common circle of friends or to each other’s family. A young nephew on my wife’s side asked whether I would still be his uncle after my divorce with his aunt. I assured him that we would always remain family. We have shared many Thanksgiving dinners, vacations and other family events in the years since.
Divorce is not a legal problem.
Family law matters are chiefly about human emotions. Unfortunately, our legal system applies the same coarse tools used for car accidents and commercial disputes. But in the end, a meaningful relationship simply can’t be reduced to spreadsheets, written parenting schedules, or legal documents.
Increasingly, families are recognizing this and avoiding the courts whenever possible. In Oregon, over 70% of family cases involve no lawyers whatsoever, and fewer than 10% of cases are actually decided by a Judge. Some couples prefer to work together one-on-one, sometimes referred to “kitchen table mediation.” Others find it helpful to talk with a mediator’s help to resolve their issues in a manner that respects their humanity and shared history.
In a peaceful break-up, there are two crucial questions: What’s most important? How will we know if we did good work together? The answers to these questions can’t be found in law books. The best solutions come from the hearts and minds of the brave couples who, despite the inherent pain from the end of a relationship, are nonetheless willing to engage with each other. They are charting their own path forward towards separate, but often still intersecting, lives. Doing so allows couples to “separate together” and consciously decide how much of the good they can salvage from the love they once shared. I feel so lucky and proud to assist with that important work.