Every family law attorney I know dreads going back to work in January, and all for the same reason: They know they will face a barrage of phone calls first thing after the New Year from potential divorce clients. (It’s not that they don’t want the business; it’s just that the volume can be overwhelming.)
According to one attorney, there’s a 30 percent increase in the volume of calls in January compared to other times of the year. The first business day in January has actually been dubbed "Divorce Monday," and January overall, "Divorce Month."
If you are not among those motivated to file, you may wonder why anyone would split up in the middle of their kids’ school year. It doesn’t seem to make sense.
If, however, you or someone you know is a petitioner, you or they would likely say that the holidays were more than you could stand in a loveless (and likely sexless) relationship; you may have wanted out months ago but, as fall approached, decided you didn’t want to ruin the kids’ holidays, or have to share the news with your extended family. Now, however, enough is enough. With the turning of the calendar page, many people's first resolution is to move forward with a filing, determined to make this the year to be true to themselves and take charge of living the life they want to lead. Waiting much longer, they’re afraid, might do them in completely.
With one's finger perched on the button that will change the fate of their marriage (and their life), the last thing they want is for someone to come along and talk them out of it, or try to make them feel awful or ashamed about wanting to make a break.
It’s not my intention to make anyone feel bad or wrong. As I tell all my clients, I have no agenda as to whether they stay in or leave their relationship. In fact, I have a saying: “The world doesn’t need more married people. The world needs more authentic and happy people.” I would not try to butt in to anyone's life, were it not for a completely viable but little-known alternative to divorce.
Divorce does not harm kids, per se. There’s ample research out there that divorce isn’t the worst thing that parents can do to kids: Fighting terribly and subjecting them to your vitriolic hatred toward each other is the worst; staying married in such a state is actually worse for kids than if you actually got divorced. I’ve seen many people divorce and, because they handled their emotions well, the children also did well. I’ve also witnessed couples do significant damage to their kids by staying in an unhealthy relationship and trying to “make it work.”
But, because it is also true that a two-parent households typically have some significant advantages over two separate, single-parent homes, it’s worth asking: What if you could stay for the kids and lead your own life—possibly even having outside romantic relationships?
I know what you’re thinking: People do this already; it's called an affair. I’m well aware that romantic affairs go on illicitly, but what I’m suggesting is that this can also happen in an above-board, respectful kind of way. It’s called a Parenting Marriage and more and more couples are turning to this option as a way to “stay for the kids” without staying stuck in a bad relationship. As spouses, you basically change your job description from lover, best friend, and co-parent to co-parent first and foremost, friends maybe, and lovers no longer.
During the past six years, I’ve helped dozens of couples across the U.S. transition from their traditional marriage to this non-traditional variation on the theme. Many find it surprisingly workable. Of course, it’s complicated and the need for having clear agreements in place is paramount, but it can be done if you both want the same things.
In my next post, I’ll share some stories of the couples that have tried a Parenting Marriage and the various outcomes they’ve had. If you’re intrigued, stay tuned. If you’re offended by this Parenting Marriage idea, I invite you to tune in again next week and just listen to some of the ways people have made this arrangement work. You might be surprised.