The Good Divorce

The culture of divorce is shifting, in tune with the times.
12/05/2012 02:09pm ET | Updated February 4, 2013
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The culture of divorce is shifting, in tune with the times. How many of us have commented on the fluidity of our children's relationships with friends with whom they become -- and un-become -- romantically involved? When we broke up with our high school boyfriends or girlfriends, we never spoke to them again. But that's not the way of my kids and their peers. And many of their parents are exploring a new paradigm as well: the good divorce. What is it?

You may be headed there if:

  • You don't believe divorce will "break" your family; it will just reconfigure it.
  • While you work out the details of a permanent solution, you and your spouse are "bird-nesting" -- rotating in and out of your house while the kids stay put.
  • You don't want to litigate, so you figure it out yourselves until you can't. And then you go to a mediator.
  • You and your husband write into your custody agreement that you'll continue to throw joint birthday parties for your kids, with each of you doing the planning on alternate years. You hope he doesn't insist on paint ball.
  • Your golden retriever travels back and forth between your houses with the kids.
  • You negotiate the final details of your settlement agreement by text message.
  • You have a divorce ceremony where you and your husband go to that beautiful spot in the woods where he proposed and bury your wedding rings.
  • Christmas morning finds you and your ex-wife in her (used to be your) living room, together, watching your kids open their presents.
  • Your kids' school sends all information to both your e-mail addresses, no questions asked.
  • Your friends throw you a divorce party. You invite your divorce lawyer. And she comes.
For sure, to some,"good divorce" is an oxymoron. Many people getting divorced are too angry or too sad to imagine salvaging anything out of the wreckage. But cultural expectation does inform our reaction to life events, and the common wisdom has been, until recently, that divorce is disaster and the best way to deal with it is to distance yourself as much as possible from your ex, to have as little contact with him or her as possible.

It is precisely this expectation which is changing. The trend is to reject the scorched-earth model in favor of civility and self-determination. Is this part of a look-it-up-on-the internet, DIY ethos? Or are today's divorcing couples members of a generation whose worlds were so rocked by the acrimonious divorces of their parents during the divorce explosion of the 70s and 80s that they swear they will not do the same to their children? Whatever the reason, it's a new landscape. As one of my clients said, That was my parents' divorce. Not mine.