Wendy Paris



Rewriting the Narrative of Divorce

Entering uncharted territory leaves room for individual experience.

Posted Feb 02, 2016

While the old-style, adversarial divorce positioned marriage and divorce as opposite ends of the relationship spectrum, the truth is often a different story.  As I've written about before, divorce allows some couples—my ex-husband and myself included—to get along better. 

Increasingly, we're seeing stories of former couples who have restructured their relationship into something less intense and more functional.  I really liked this article in The New York Times about former-weds living close together for their children, even in the same townhouse.  The paper positioned these residential relationships as a “New York thing,” but people around the country are similarly choosing to stay close for their children’s sake, and their own.

No-fault law, now available in every state, created the opportunity for this shift in the "storyline" about divorce.  No-fault enabled a couple to end a marriage without one partner having to prove the other had committed a legal or moral crime.  Before no-fault, a merely unhappy couple had no real route out of marriage.  

In the middle of the twentieth century, couples began fabricating tales of vice in order to sue for divorce.  Even manufacturing a hero/villain story can have a negative effect on the post-marriage relationship.  The negative rumination required to remember it can create its own narrative arc, sending a potentially decent divorce down an expensive and unnecessarily painful path.  Some people still do this, of course—exaggerating their spouse's evil-doing to justify the divorce to themselves or others.  But the law no longer requires polarized position-taking.  

No-fault gave rise to other forms of cooperative uncoupling, and in many ways opened space for mental health professionals to participate in the process—a huge benefit for divorcing couples and their kids. 

Today, legal innovations continue to improve the divorce process.  Collaborative law, for example, still somewhat new, is a legal approach in which both spouses hire a lawyer, but each lawyer signs a contract to settle the case out of court.  "There’s been a movement to make divorce less contentious," says George Washington University law professor Naomi Cahn, co-author of Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family.  "In the past six years, a dozen states plus Washington D.C. have enacted the Uniform Collaborative Law act. It represents the use of collaborative law and an effort to standardized it.  The fact that there is such a thing is pretty exciting.” 

The Uniform Collaborative Law act is just one example of how the law increasingly supports today's good divorce, and is catching up with the reality of modern family life.  As more divorcing and separating couples chose collaborative approaches to parting, we'll likely hear more stories of decent divorces, and happy, well-adjusted families—whatever the marital status of the parents.

What do you think? Write me at wendy@wendyparis.com, and let me know. 

Please forward this to others facing divorce. My book, Splitopia, is now available for preorder.  You can also sign up for my weekly posts at wendyparis.com, and follow me on twitter @wendyparis1.