Can There Be a Good Divorce
The decision to divorce is unquestionably a difficult and painful one. Once the decision is made, the process can be simple, but it can also be complex. How one begins the process is crucial and is directly proportionate to the outcomes, especially when it concerns children’s best interests.
From my clinical practice, working with many divorced parents and children, I have seen many parents and children for whom the divorce experience has been emotionally intense. I have also seen those who made it with minimum court involvement. And I wonder what makes the difference between the two. Is a good divorce possible? And if it is, what makes it possible?
Mr S and Ms T had been married for 13 years before Ms T decided to end the marriage and filed for divorce against his wishes. They have two children, aged 12 and 10. Their marriage was dissolved 4 years later with the father gaining access rights and the mother care and control of the children. But the father appealed against the court’s decision. One can imagine the family’s experience of the divorce journey. Anger, fear, confusion, blame, resentment, threats, tears, fights, disagreements, and arguments dominated the everyday scenes of the children’s care arrangements.
Could the divorce experience have been different for this family? Is a good divorce possible for them?
Mr A and Ms B have been married for 7 years with a 2 years old child. Ms B wanted to end the marriage, whilst Mr A wanted to save the marriage. After attending the Mandatory Co-Parenting Programme (CPP), a pre-requisite before filing for a divorce, she was recommended counselling to help her gain greater clarity and a deeper understanding of the future direction of their marriage. Both she and Mr B attended the counselling a year later.
At the end of the Counselling, Ms B was clear about the direction of the marriage – divorce. In considering their child’s best interest and wanting a positive long-term parental relationship, Mr A agreed to the divorce even though he was reluctant. Together, they attended a Pre-Action Mediation (PAM) at our Agency, Strengthening Family Programme@FSC (Fei Yue), before filing for divorce. The marriage was dissolved with the father being given access and the mother care and control. What was this family’s experience of their divorce journey? Anger, fear, blame, resentment, tears, disagreements, help-seeking, negotiations, and re-negotiations of relationships, open conversations that led to shifts in more positive feelings such as relief, co-operation, calmness.
What helped to make this divorce process so different?
What did Mr A and Ms B do that made a difference to the divorce process?
Firstly, Ms B reached out to a counsellor to seek clarity on her decision to end her marriage. She invited her then-husband, Mr A, to join her in counselling so that both could have clarity and a deeper understanding of what had happened to their marriage, resulting in this step of considering divorce. Mr A was open to the idea of counselling and joined her. Both had numerous conversations guided by a counsellor. As much as Mr A wanted to save the marriage, he respected and accepted Ms B’s decision. Since he could not save the marriage, his hope was to divorce and continue the parental relationship with Ms B in the interest of their child. Working alongside the counsellor, both parents focused on their parental partnership in co-parenting to ensure their child received the best from both parents for the child’s emotional and psychological well-being. Besides, both also decided to work with the Counsellor on their feelings of anger, fears, disappointments, and sadness so that these do not interfere with their co-parenting effort and their personal well-being.
Divorce is a personal choice and decision. There are some marriages that might not be possible to save, and divorce becomes the only reasonable option. The consideration then becomes how to end the marriage with the least possible damage to the children and the parents. In my opinion, it is possible to “divorce well.” Many assume that they must go to court to resolve their divorce and are unaware of the various options available to them.
A) Collaborative Divorce
Collaborative divorce is a non-contested route where parties agree on the parenting plan and ancillary matters amicably. In Singapore, this is known as the simplified track.
Divorce mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution in which the mediator helps parents negotiate custody and financial arrangements as cooperatively as possible. The mediator meets them together and, hopefully, helps resolve their differences. Legally, the goal of mediation is to negotiate a settlement that forms the basis of a binding, legal agreement. Psychologically and emotionally, the goal is to help partners preserve their parental relationship even as their marriage is coming apart.
The primary reason people choose to mediate their divorce is that everything will be negotiated out of court with the help of one legal professional. This allows the process to be less stressful, take less time, and consequently be less expensive than the other available options.
In the case of Mr A and Ms B, they adopted a collaborative and mediative approach to resolve their divorce. This option is available through the Pre-Action Mediation service provided by Strengthening Families Programme (Fei Yue – Choa Chu Kang). See link for more information. https://familyassist.msf.gov.sg/content/resources/programmes/pre-action-mediation-pam/
The third divorce option is to litigate through the court system. Each spouse has a lawyer who represents their needs and is committed to fighting for those needs to be met. It is an adversarial process in which the lawyers are working to prove to the judge that their client deserves something (either in terms of money or time with the children) that the other spouse does not deserve. The judge makes the final decision, not the spouses, and that decision is binding.
From working with clients such as Mr S and Ms T, who used this approach, the outcomes get ugly very quickly. Accusations will be made about each other in an attempt to discredit one’s ability to be a good parent. Children are often caught in between. All of this only increases the tension and anger that typically already exists between spouses, making it increasingly difficult to be able to effectively co-parent with each other in the future.
In his longitudinal research on divorced families who either litigate or mediate their custody disputes, Emery Robert found that 12 years later, an average of only 6 hours of mediation caused non-residential parents to remain significantly and substantially more involved in their children’s lives, to be better parents, and to be better coparents (Emery, Laumann-Billings, Waldron, Sbarra, & Dillon, 2001).
Is it possible to have a good divorce? Divorce is a personal choice and decision, and parents need to choose wisely to safeguard the outcome for the children and adults.
It is important that parents let go of the hostile baggage, redefine their post-divorce relationships, renegotiate their parenting roles and responsibilities, unlearn old ways of interaction patterns, and relearn new methods of communication. Divorce does not define the outcome of the well-being of the children. What goes on between parents’ post-divorce does. Children can experience the best of both parents when parents’ divorce well and make many ongoing decisions in the best interest of your child/children.
Can there be a good divorce? The choice remains in the power of each parent to make decisions in the best interest of the child.