By Joanna Brown
The North Shore Weekend and Daily North Shore Love & Marriage columnist, Joanna Brown, talked with Michael Ian Bender about divorce in the September 26, 2015 issue. She asks, “Is Peaceful Divorce an Oxymoron or a Possibility?”
About the same time that my friends and neighbors (and me) were posting to Facebook and Instagram photos of our kids on the first day of school, a Canadian couple was making headlines with their photo from the end of their marriage.
Chris and Shannon Neuman photographed themselves grinning from ear to ear outside of the Calgary Courts Center moments after they divorced. She explained when she posted the photo to Facebook that they were not smiling about their divorce — but rather that they ended their 11-year marriage without ending their relationship.
“We have done something extraordinary (we think anyway!),” Shannon Neuman wrote. “We have respectfully, thoughtfully and honorably ended our marriage in a way that will allow us to go forward as parenting partners.”
They fully intend to be a united front for the rest of their days, even the most stressful (their two children’s wedding days was the example Shannon Neuman gave to one newspaper). They admit that they mourned their marriage during their four years separated but felt good about their decision when the agreement was made final. Her Facebook post invited others to share the message that it’s “possible to love your kids more than you hate/distrust/dislike your ex.”
I asked Chicago-based attorney Michael Ian Bender to weigh in on this possibility. Bender, of Lincolnshire, has practiced family law in the Chicago area since 1993, except for the six years that he served as a Cook County Circuit Court judge. He told me without a doubt that a peaceful divorce is possible.
This is 2015, I reminded him. Married people not only have children together — they might also be business partners or work in the same professional field and therefore cross paths frequently. Can anybody do that well after a divorce, or are these Canadians unique?
“It’s important that you reach an agreement, finalize it, and move on quickly,” Bender explained. “If it goes on too long, it leads to hard feelings. People and their attorneys say things that can be misconstrued and insulting. Tension and anxiety rise.” He recommended working with a mediator before getting to the courtroom.
“Mediation helps people to see all their options,” Bender explained. “In divorce, people have fears that need to be talked about and addressed, but there is no reason you can’t move forward together. A mediator will help you have a discussion about what the future looks like and what the possibilities are. Divorce isn’t something you plan for, but it doesn’t have to be a miserable War of the Roses.”
Toward that end, Bender advised being honest about financial matters.
“There is no need to hide assets, because the court will always find out anyway,” he explained. “Be honest when you talk about what all there is and work out what’s fair. That’s where mediation can be win/win, where both people can be happy with the agreement that is reached. But that can’t happen without several hours of communication, and that’s not going to happen in the courtroom.”
When divorce ultimately does get to the courtroom, Bender advised leaving the children out of it. Divorcing parents expect their children to have questions, but this is one time when honesty is not necessarily the best policy. Explain that both parents have decided to end the marriage (not that “Your father wanted a divorce, not me”), but that the children will always be loved by both parents and well cared for. Don’t make the children choose sides, Bender said, because there’s just no reason to open the door to that later tension.