by Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Once the decision to separate is made, there are a number of other issues to
settle. If the decision has been made in isolation, there is the matter of informing
one’s spouse. Thereafter comes telling the kids. From there, attention
is directed towards determining the ongoing care of the children between the
separated parents. Then there is the matter of settling housing, finances and
ongoing financial obligations. For some people, these issues begin to blend
together, overwhelming them with the enormity of the consequences.
Underneath all decisions are associated feelings. Each issue brings a host
of emotions, mostly dark and upsetting. The parties are dealing with the loss
of the relationship, let alone the fantasy of how things should have been. There
is worry as to the impact on the children, ongoing parent-child relationships,
and economic hardship. Feelings may include anger, resentment, depression, fear
and in some situations, even elation. Typically it is the feelings that drive
decisions. Many people directly or indirectly seek retribution in how they settle
the cascade of issues. People also may seek to make quick and rash decisions,
serving to assuage their feelings and fears.
In the wake of the decision to separate, many people turn to a lawyer first,
seeking to preserve rights and turf. The decision to separate is then communicated
to the other party by way of a legal letter, not only telling of the separation,
but laying out the demands and expectations for settlement. With the rug pulled
out from beneath them, the other party, in a tizzy, is seldom able to respond
reasonably given the information just befallen them. Hence the response may
be nothing more than an outpouring of their emotion, upset, rage, sadness and
fear, disguised as a counter to the demands of the other. Then the couple, like
a ship, makes a series of over-corrections, trying to counterbalance competing
demands; they veer left, then right, further left and further right, harder
and harder, until their matter reaches epic proportions, spilling over into
Separating is always counter-intuitive. No person enters a long-term committed
relationship saying that in time, they seek to lose their love and develop animosity
enough to drive them from the relationship. These are always upsetting times
and when upset drives decisions, poor decisions are often made further compounding
problems. The ones to suffer most in the process are children. Statistically,
it is not the distribution of assets, residential setting or even the access
schedule that determines the outcome for children. It is singularly the level
of conflict between the parents that most determines how their children will
fare during and after the process and how they shall fare in their own adult
intimate relationships later on.
Upon a decision to separate, parents would be wise to call to a counselor well
trained and versed in separation and divorce matters. Please note, this is a
specialty and very different to working with persons on other individual, emotional
or psychological matters. The counselor trained and versed in separation and
divorce matters will help the couple identify and manage the issues that contributed
to the decision to separate and will maintain a clarity of vision to help the
couple truly sort out what is best for their children, given their situation.
Further, most counselors, trained and versed in separation and divorce matters
can facilitate referrals to financial and legal services and would do so with
the view to preserving the integrity of the parties and relationships.
The goal of the separation is to permit for the untangling of lives, whilst
still respecting and maintaining relationships vital to the care and development
of the children.
It can be scary seeing the counselor, but parents are advised to consider this
a mature decision aimed at managing their feelings to achieve an outcome best
for everyone combined and especially, their children.