Making the Best of the Bird-Nest

I have 4 pending uncontested divorces right now that range in “amicable” between 1 and 3. 1 being “completely-kindred-spirits” and 3 being “on-the-verge-of-explosion.”

These are my suggestions for how to keep an uncontested dissolution closer to a 1 than a 3 during the covid-19 shutdown.

Divorce should be treated as both a legal and an emotional decision. We are living in a heightened emotional state as a world right now, and it plays an even bigger role than usual. Parties (jointly or separately) benefit from employing mental health professional(s) for the emotional aspects of the divorce. Clients who let their attorneys (or closest friends/relatives) inform their decision making tend to end up more polarized than the ones who process their emotions with a professional.

While we are in lock-down, more families are sharing parental responsibility through the bird-nesting model. Some do so by alternating “lead” and “support” parents within the household, if they have nowhere else to go. The parents who can do this successfully are the ones who stick to a written schedule and abide by it.

Some bird-nesting families are fortunate to have have an additional residence at their disposal. While one might intuit a benefit that having one party live in the second home and “visit” the kids in the marital residence, it is sometimes the opposite. The party living in the marital residence day in and day out may sometimes feel unfairly used by the “visiting” parent. This is an area where the home bound parent frequently projects onto the remote parent a sense of freedom and idleness. Both parties in this situation are well served to treat it more like a host-and-guest situation. Just as right now we do not drop by our friends’ houses unannounced, we should not be doing so on our spouses – no matter how much we miss our children. Also, we would never visit a friend’s house and leave dirty dishes in the sink, dirty laundry on the floor, or an empty mayo jar in the fridge. Neither should we be doing any of these things while bird-nesting.

Overall, whether during Covid-19 shut-downs, or any other time that I am mediating between parties, I always try to help them take a step back from their projected emotions and imagine that the exact opposite could also be true. If, for example, the husband tells me that his wife “is so excited for this divorce, she can’t wait to get away from me and just leave me holding the bag with these kids.” I ask him to imagine himself on the opposite side of the picture for a moment. “If you were the one who had just moved out of the marital residence and into a small apartment, leaving the kids behind with their mom – who is mad at you right now – would you be joyful? Or sad? Would you feel relief? Or fear?”

Whenever a mediation client of mine begins to think that the other party is somehow in a better position, I try to get them to really see what that position is, and recognize that it might feel just as bad as their own.

Published by Sharon Oberst DeFala

Sharon Oberst DeFala has practiced low-impact safe divorce since 1992.

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