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The D Word When All Else Has Failed. How To Divorce With Dignity.

It's a terribly sad thing when marriage doesn't work for a couple. There's tremendous emotional fallout that affects everyone, not just the couple – friends as well as family are caught up in the pain. For the purposes of this article I don't propose to go into the reasons why a marriage might fail, or how one could have worked at trying to prevent it. You can read my other articles if you want some clues. Let us assume that the couple has tried everything, the emotional bank account has been completely drained, and now they are calling it quits. And let's be honest here, some couples are much better off NOT staying married.

I'll never forget the poor woman I knew many years ago who separated from the father of her two little boys because he was abusive. The pastor of her church pressured her into returning and the next day her seven year old climbed out a window and ran next door to tell the neighbour that his daddy was cutting his mummy with a big knife. The woman was dead before the police and ambulance arrived. The youngest child was found several hours later hiding in a cupboard.

With the current statistics saying almost 50% of marriages end in divorce, one has to wonder why people even bother getting married these days! It looks a bit gloomy out there for all those young hopefuls exchanging their vows and making promises that are supposed to last a lifetime. If fifty percent are invariably going to trip over on the rocky road of marriage and fall flat, then perhaps marriage celebrants should be giving their customers a small brochure on how to have a civilized divorce at the same time as they give them the civil documents of their new marriage.

Even better still, I'm thinking it would be a very good idea for couples to attend compulsory classes on how to have a happy marriage before they are allowed to tie the knot. They'd have to pass the exam with 100% or else do it all again. Maybe there could be refresher classes every few years as well…

Step one in the civilized divorce - agree to show good manners

Believe me, this very rarely ever happens, but one can always hope it might.

Be polite when speaking with each other about the divorce process. No yelling, swearing, name calling, hanging up the phone, etc. The decision has been made for whatever reason; recrimination and passing blame is not going to help anyone at this stage. So stick to the basics and don't get personal. You need to sort out property and kids if you have them. Try and be fair and logical.

Step two – kids - if you have any

Don't fight over the kids and don't fight in front of them.

So many people use their children as weapons in the war against their ex partner. Trying to turn your child against the other parent does far more harm to the child and their love for you, than it does to the other person. If you can't say anything nice about your ex, then keep your mouth shut in front of your kids. Unless your ex is a danger to your children, then don't play manipulative games about access – try and share. The kids will be very confused and upset at this time, so don't make it worse for them. They still love you both and later they will thank you for not taking away their right to have both parents.  

If the children are old enough to decide which parent they stay with, let them choose. Ask them and then don't try and manipulate them to stay with you if they chose the other party. It doesn't mean they don't love you. You may find the children go for a few months to one place and then change their minds and want to move back. Make sure you contact them regularly and reassure them of your love if they don't live with you.

If circumstances are such that the children cannot get a choice over which parent they live with, then make sure they still get to see and spend regular time with the other parent.

There is not space in a short article to go into the psychological trauma that children suffer when their parents break up, and the parents and extended family and friends are suffering too. The important thing is to try and be aware of other's pain as well as your own and do your best to minimise any further hurts.

Don't fight over child support payments.

Step three – property

Half each sounds fine in principle, but of course it is all relative. 
Every situation has its own unique set of circumstances. One party may have had a fortune at the beginning of the marriage and it doesn't seem fair that after three months, or even a few years, there's a divorce and the other party walks away with half. You can see why there is so much fighting during a divorce. Having a civilized divorce is all about fairness and not fighting. Pre-nuptial agreements are great things in hindsight, but even they can be unfair.

Try and get this part of the process over as quickly as possible, otherwise the only winners are the lawyers. At the end of the day, what is more important?  A big bank balance or peace? If there are children involved and one party has to stay home to look after them, then that party will need certain things to do the job properly.

Cheating one another, hiding assets, being unreasonable – these are not the way to have a civilized divorce.

Step four – move on

Stop harping on to all your friends and family about your rotten ex and the way they ripped you off, stole your kids, cheated you out of your money, ran off with your best friend, etc, etc.…

Eventually most people do recover after a divorce. There may be emotional scars, but so long as you don't go picking at them, they eventually fade and stop causing pain.

Unfortunately, having written this article, I have to confess that I have only seen two couples divorce in what I would describe as a civilized fashion. The other hundred or so fought like cat and dog over kids and money, and years later they still grizzle about their ex. Sigh… There is hope though. If two could get it right then it isn't impossible.

All the best

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Michelle MacKinnon was born in New Zealand, in 1957 and she lives with her husband in Palmerston North. In 2008 she published a double award winning novel called Escape from Eden and in 2009 she published an award winning children's picture book called Bluebell Mary. Michelle has seven children, three adopted and four by birth. Since her training as a General and Obstetric nurse, Michelle has been involved in many different vocations from beekeeping, alternative medicine, and hobby farming, to accounting, marketing, and voluntary counselling. Writing has been a lifelong passion and in 2008 she completed a Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing at the Whitireia Polytechnic in Wellington, New Zealand.