By Alan E. Freed
Another day, another celebrity divorce. The banner headlines have faded on Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes but the paparazzi are circling around the next unhappy pair. Your divorce won’t attract the attention of millions the way TomKat did, yet the rapid disappearance of their case from public sight may contain some lessons for all of us.
The Cruise/Holmes bust-up started with a bang, with news reports and speculation about strategies and outcome appearing everywhere. Then, in a stunning turn of events, we learned that Tom and Katie had sat down and resolved the whole case without ever appearing in court.
We will never know just how the divorce of the year turned into a blip on the gossip radar screen. We can be sure however, that the Cruises, whether deliberately or not, spared their daughter the pain of a public war over how she should be raised. The public’s loss is one child’s gain.
Your divorce may never make the National Enquirer but you can make choices about how you present yourself and your spouse to your own public–family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Just as Tom and Katie spared the world their angry views about each other, you can choose to keep your unhappiness about your spouse’s behavior to yourself and prevent your children from having to hear about what a miserable parent they have to spend time with.
Your children have a stake in a solid relationship with two competent parents; they know they are a product of both of their parents. If you are saying nasty things about your husband, your children are hearing nasty things about their father, the person who has contributed half of their DNA. The message to your child: one of my parents is bad so half of me must be bad.
Most divorces are settled, whether early or late in the process. Although many divorces follow the traditional course towards trial, far more often the couple manages to work out a settlement before ever putting evidence in front of a judge. Once the case is resolved, both parents must work together for their children’s benefit.
If you know you’ll probably settle, you can try to control the conditions under which the settlement takes place. Are you better off focusing on every flaw in your spouse, or would you and your children be better off if you gather the relevant financial information, assess the likely range of outcomes, and sit down for some serious bargaining? Unless you derive pleasure from months of emotional drama and legal fees, you’d probably prefer to settle your case and move on with your life.
Once the divorce is over and the dust settles, you and your former spouse will now be partners in the business of raising your children. Publicly tearing down the other parent makes co-parenting a monumentally difficult task to achieve. Meanwhile, your children, who bear no responsibility for the destruction of their home and the decimation of their family’s finances, must try to figure out how to have healthy relationships with two exhausted and damaged parents.
Consider resolving your divorce using a process that excludes the public airing of your grievances and a “battle” mentality. Mediation and collaborative divorce both offer problem-solving approaches to a divorcing family. Even if you don’t choose one of these “low impact” options, tell your lawyer of your desire to preserve your family’s dignity and finances and your wish to protect your children by obtaining a resolution of your case through negotiation rather than through war.
Your children will thank you.