My work on this concept came about during the Recession when I had a large percentage of my clients who wanted out of their marriages but who could not afford to leave. (Stats show that divorce was down during those hard economic times but that doesn't mean the quality of marriage went up. In fact, incidents of domestic violence rose during those years. People stayed because they had to, not because they wanted to).
The choices before now had always been very clear: stay married or get divorced. But these unhappy couples—whose homes were upside down and retirement accounts reduced to near zero—needed a framework within which to maintain their lives as co-parents while not losing everything to divorce. For most, this framework had to address removing the romantic expectations, sometimes the social connections, as well as other family or financial obligations and its primary focus needed to be on the well-being of the kids.
Just like walking in unknown territory, helping couples establish these agreements felt strange and, in some ways, very wrong. It was against all the rules, social norms and even their vows!
Except this new option (I called it a parenting marriage) was exactly what these couples told me they needed or wanted. I was simply putting words to it and facilitating the agreements as they made them.
Today, it's becoming "a thing." More and more people are doing it. It's catching on. Because it works.
I recently put out a survey to get a sense of what people's needs are now that the Recession is over: Why are they considering a parenting marriage, is money a deciding factor and why they think a parenting marriage will work for them.
Here are some of the preliminary results:
1. Why are you considering a parenting marriage?
78% said, "Our romantic marriage has been over for less than five years."
11% said, "One of us had an affair and we need time to figure out whether we are going to stay together or not."
11% said, "We just need a break from our romantic marriage and just focus on the kids for a bit.
One person added, "One of us had an emotional affair, we tried couples therapy and decided we don't want to continue as a couple."
2. Are limited financial resources forcing you to look at alternatives to divorce such as a parenting marriage?
78% said, "Yes."
11% said they weren't sure.
When I asked the third question, " Why do you think a parenting marriage would work for you?" here are some of the responses I got.
"Because we care about each other and want our children to be raised together in the same home."
"I don't want to miss any time parenting our child. I don't want to disrupt her life or ours."
"We both think it is the best thing for our kids."
"We still love and care for each other."
"We do not want to split up our family and we can live as friends."
"We are still friends."
"We have been doing ok so far for the last six months and are mostly civil with each other."
"We both have the kids' best interest at heart."
"We will keep the family together."
The values are obvious. These couples are putting the needs of their kids first and their own needs second—but it's a close second and that's the beauty.
In many ways, by changing the rules of the marriage, there are no losers. It may make your in-laws or neighbors uncomfortable but most couples can tolerate that knowing that their kids are the biggest winners in this arrangement.
Feel free to take the survey or write to me with your thoughts or questions in the Comments section below. I'll be publishing the results of the final survey once all the data has been collected, so stay tuned.