Written by Dr Angela du Plessis. Angela is an accredited and experienced mediator in divorce and labour matters. She has an MSc from Oxford University and a PhD from Wits in Social Work.
An insightful journalist once wrote: “Divorce is a marriage where the bonds of love are
replaced with bonds of hate”. Does it have to be this way? Especially if there are
children involved – how do couples face the dreadful process of a divorce such that
their children are not overwhelmed by their parents’ conflict? A wonderful psychologist
called Seligman has said that children who witness a high level of conflict between their
parents can have long term issues such as depression which can last well into their
adulthood. How can couples facing the traumatic unpicking of a marriage and family life
without such lasting effects?
Divorce is devastating, putting all of the family on an uncomfortable and frightening
rollercoaster as they navigate their way through a difficult and largely unknown journey.
Most divorcing couples opt to go the litigation route which, on the one hand can be
helpful, but on the other hand, may not. Obviously each lawyer wants the best deal for
their client but the couple’s relationship may be at risk as their lawyers haggle over the
division of assets, child care arrangements and the introduction of new partners.
At its most basic level, a divorce demands a series of conversations about a broad
range of topics that affect the lives of all involved. Because of the emotional nature of
the conversations these can be difficult to handle. Between most couples divorcing
there is a complex set of feelings that underlie even the most apparently neutral
decisions. These feelings include anger, sadness, guilt, shame, blaming the other
person, and the like. Divorce can induce a maelstrom of emotions that may hinder a set
of negotiations. A contested divorce, where couples cannot agree on financial outcomes
or perhaps where the children should live, may take a long time – indeed some drag on
for years, and the cost of lawyers’ fees compound already frightening money troubles.
Some couples choose to communicate only through their legal representatives, which
does little to build up co-parenting efforts.
It is a well-known fact that many couples cannot afford to get divorced. Running two
homes after the separation can place enormous financial stress on the family.