Whether it’s the revenge plot of films like First Wives Club or shady celeb breakup reports involving controversial salad dressing, splitting up often gets the all knives out edit. But whatever happened to “conscious uncoupling”? Can two adults break it off without going nuclear and affecting the kids? We spoke with divorce attorney and mediator Dorit L. Goikhman about the biggest mistake couples with kids make before they legally split…and why Gwyneth was probably on to something.
A Divorce Mediator on the Biggest Mistake Co-Parents Make When They Split
The Biggest Divorce Mistake? Haggling Over Small Issues and Not Putting Enough Time into Big Ones
“Divorce can be very emotional,” Goikhman tells us. “And many parties get trapped into short-term thinking, hoping to ‘win’ a small battle for the sake of their ego or avoiding hurt.” But newsflash: the co-parenting doesn't stop just because your marriage has. It must continue through the divorce and thereafter. So as much as you want justice in the name of Everything You’ve Done for Him™, fueling the fire only hurts the family unit (yep, unfortunately you’re still kinda a family unit), and you’ll be stuck with it. If you can remain cordial, you can hopefully fashion solutions that work for everybody involved and create long-term, reliable processes.
Take extra curricular activities, says Goikhman. You could play the blame game with your ex over who forgot to bring Ricky's karate uniform or soccer cleats to practice or you two could sit down (perhaps with a mediator) and figure out bigger solutions that work for your unique situation. For instance, maybe as co-parents you decide to invest in double the gear to have at each home. Or maybe you agree that it's a timely lesson for Ricky about mental load and packing his own bag. Or maybe when you two are working out the carpool, you realize how over-scheduled Ricky is and that the kid needs some down time. The point is, haggling over the small things can mean you'll skim over bigger conversations that can have real-life implications.
There's the Financial Size of Co-Parenting Too
“Ultimately,” says Goikhman, “divorce tends to have long-term financial consequences, so instead of thinking about small wins, it's a better idea to focus on the overall long-term picture, and ideally—how to maximize the marital assets for both parties.” This can include, for example, working with tax professionals or finance professionals to avoid making costly mistakes (like improperly withdrawing from and/or dividing tax advantaged retirement accounts in a manner that can result in tax penalties) that will decrease the overall estate or working together on long-term goals like tax planning and college savings, which will benefit your kids down the road.
Of course, it’s not always possible to cooperate with a co-parent. But if the two of you can get over your short-term frustrations, mediation can allow for compromise on important issues (that may involve your children) instead of punting it to a judge who may not take into consideration your family’s unique circumstances.
You may be divorcing, but you’re still forging a future together (just separately). Undercutting your ex, could mean undercutting your kids.