Marriage

Parenting Marriage: Can It Help You Avoid Divorce?

The perfect option for couples that want to divorce but can't afford to.

Posted May 03, 2020

The two times a year when I see a surge in new divorcing clients are after summer break and after the winter holidays. These "vacations" are times when families tend to spend a great deal of time together. If spouses aren't getting along very well, these family times tend to be anything but fun. They can, in fact, be what puts the nail in the coffin of an already unhappy marriage.

Given that during these past several weeks families have been forced to be together by way of sheltering in place, I'm not surprised to see headlines like this one: Surge in divorces anticipated in wake of COVID-19 quarantine. 

 123RF
Source: 123RF

Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, some are predicting a baby boom and have even dubbed the newborns-to-be the Coronials.

I, too, have seen that this time of forced togetherness has made those already contemplating splitting up, more convinced than ever that they want out. Not simply because they have felt unfulfilled or unhappy with their spouse, but because this global crisis has forced them (and all of us) to face their mortality and, therefore, re-evaluate their lives. It's what I refer to as a pivotal event. These occurrences can literally change our life's path in a nano-second and get us more in line with our authentic truth.

Questions like, "Is this who I want to spend the rest of my life with?" or, "If I were to get sick from this virus, would I regret staying in this marriage?" propel people into action because they begin to see how short life can be.

Although we don't know when this pandemic is going to pass, we can have confidence that it will. Some experts have advised that couples may not want to rush into divorce too quickly in reaction to the virus due to the fact that we're expecting to see tremendous financial fallout when we get our lives back up and running. According to Bloomberg, with the joblessness and the lack of spending, there is 100% probability that we will be in a full-blown recession within the next 12 months.

OK, so now what? What choices do you have when you want out, but you truly can't afford to split?  Are there any other options than to simply stay or go?

A Newish Alternative

Aside from staying unhappily or blowing everything up when one aspect of the relationship isn't working, there is now a very viable option. It's called a Parenting Marriage, and it's been "a thing" since the recession a decade ago. Of course, couples have been slipping into this androgynous existence by default for decades, but it wasn't until more recently that people have been able to do this in an above-board, more formal way.

The Parenting Marriage came to be when I was working with a couple in 2007 that couldn't decide whether to stay or go. Part of why they needed to stay was because, in that recession, their house was upside down, their retirement funds had diminished, and they didn't have enough money to get divorced. They were, in essence, stuck.

I began to explore some creative options with them. The one we finally landed on was to have them remain married but build out the downstairs of their home as an apartment for him and let her take the upstairs master bedroom. This way, they could stay together in the house and not have to divide their assets, while the kids could benefit from a stable home. An added bonus was that they could even increase the value of their home with this potential remodel. We hashed out agreements for who would have the kids when, how they would handle their finances and, finally, how they would handle dating and bringing other people into the mix. This option worked for this couple and for their kids.

Since that time, I've helped dozens of couples grappling with wanting to stay for the kids, but wanting out of their spousal relationship to successfully create a Parenting Marriage.

A Parenting Marriage is Versatile

Although it's not for everyone, a Parenting Marriage can be a good alternative to divorce and it can be used in a variety of ways.

You can implement a Parenting Marriage now just until your kids are in high school or college; or, you can put a Parenting Marriage in place that will last forever, regardless of where the kids are and how old they are. Yet another way to use a Parenting Marriage is that it, if you know you will want to get a divorce as soon as possible, it can tide you over until splitting is more feasible or affordable. One couple I worked with called it a "soft landing" to divorce and they found that everything they included in their Parenting Marriage Agreement (PMA), ended up in their marital settlement agreement (MSA) which made the legal process much easier (and much less expensive).

It Doesn't Work for Just Anyone 

Unfortunately, this option won't fit just any couple wanting out for romantic reasons but in for the children's sake. 

Here are the basics of what you will need in order to have this option be successful:

  1. Be good co-parents (or be willing to take classes or getting coaching to improve)
  2. Be able to put the needs of the kids first
  3. Ideally, both will accept that the romance is gone (sometimes time passing can help, or getting professional help)
  4. Have a stable home environment
  5. Like each other and have a friendship
  6. Be mature and respectful
  7. Be able to tolerate living in the gray

If these traits are present, you may not be able to implement this model:

  1. Addiction or a devastating betrayal (trust will not be present if these things are)
  2. Domestic violence
  3. Inability to work together as parents (united front, have each other's back, etc.)
  4. Absolute inability to accept that the marriage you once had is over
  5. Irrational jealousy of your spouse, even when they are not interested in starting a new relationship
  6. Black-and-white thinking: good/bad, right/wrong
  7. A past hurt that cannot be resolved 

There are workbooks and webinars that can help you understand whether this might be a good option for you just until this next recession is over, or for the long haul. 

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