Case Study: Parenting Through Separation and Divorce
Mary and Michael – Parenting Issues
Mary and Michael had been married for nine years. Mary, my client, works part-time as an educational assistant earning approximately $40,000 per year. Michael works in the computer industry earning approximately $120,000 per year.
(Mary and Michael are not real people. Their story is a composite of real client stories.)
They have two children: a boy age 8, and a girl age 6. Michael worked long hours in the past and left most of the parenting to Mary, but now that the children are older, Michael is showing more interest in spending time with them.
Mary and Michael had been separated for a couple of months when I first met with Mary. Michael was very upset with the separation. He wanted to reconcile. Mary said that Michael was often upset when he came over to pick up the children. In fact, he often cried and begged Mary to take him back. He did this in the presence of the children which upset them too. Mary said the children did not want to go on visits with their father as they were closer to her and were upset with seeing their father so visibly shaken.
Michael retained a collaboratively trained lawyer who I then contacted. We discussed Michael’s emotional state. I confirmed that Mary would not entertain the possibility of reconciliation. We agreed that Michael needed help coming to terms with the separation. Michael’s lawyer agreed to speak to him about retaining a Divorce Coach. I agreed to speak to Mary about retaining her own Divorce Coach to help her understand her emotions and to develop some strategies for coping with Michael.
After Mary met with her Family Specialist, I spoke to her about Mary. In a brief conversation, I learned a lot about the dynamics of Mary’s relationship with Michael and how to approach Michael during the four-way meeting so as to not “push his buttons.” I did not want to inadvertently make things worse for Mary. Our discussion was very helpful. I was able to avoid triggering Michael at our subsequent meetings.
At our first meeting, we reviewed and signed the Participation Agreement; dealt with some urgent issues related to the payment of some bills and discussed retaining a Family Specialist to help work through parenting issues. We agreed on the Family Specialist and how she would be paid. The Family Specialist was at the first meeting and helped facilitate it. As a result, we started the process positively.
The Family Specialist met with the children several times, and met with each individually. She then met with Mary and Michael together to share her insights and thoughts about the children. She helped them work out several pressing parenting issues, such as attendance at extra-curricular activities, the introduction of new partners (Mary had started dating) and how to communicate regarding issues over the kids from time to time.
We — Mary, Michael, the two Newmarket divorce lawyers and the Family Specialist — then met to work out when the children would be in Michael’s care. The Family Specialist (and perhaps also the passage of time) had really helped Michael to accept Mary’s decision to separate. He was more emotionally stable around the children. The children were still having a difficult time leaving their mother’s side, but things were improving.
The parties reached an agreement for the children to see their father every Sunday afternoon for the first couple of weeks, the whole day for the next couple of weeks, and then finally for a full day and overnight. The Family Specialist would then meet with the children to see how they were finding their time away from their mother. The gradual increase in time would also give Mary a chance to adjust to having the children away from her.
After five weeks, we had another meeting. We heard the Family Specialist’s insights on the custody arrangement, and the parties were able to agree on a time-sharing regime for the children that met their needs. We drafted a Separation Agreement that was signed by the parties. Since we knew that Michael had been an alcoholic, we did not celebrate with champagne, but we did open a bottle of sparkling water.
Both Mary and Michael knew that the agreement they signed that day might have to be adjusted as the needs of the children changed and the circumstances of their own lives changed, but they had developed a good plan that worked. The children were adjusting well to their new circumstances. Mary and Michael were starting to develop a new relationship based solely on working together as parents. They were moving in the right direction. It was an excellent resolution for everyone, especially the children, whose voices and needs were respected and met.