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Divorce and the co-parenting conundrum

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VANESSA VALKIN

Beth Alexander, a university lecturer whose former husband, Dr Michael Schlesinger, had her declared mentally unfit to care for the boys, says they are now being cared for by two au pairs.

The British Orthodox community has tried to come to her aid and have written to the Viennese Jewish community, criticising them for not protecting this vulnerable mother who claims that her husband and the Austrian Orthodox community made baseless claims about her mental state because she wanted to get divorced in a religious community that is critical of such choices.

The reasons for divorce are usually unpleasant and once a couple has split, there are again a multitude of reasons for further conflict and tension – such as the case of this couple in Austria – where the children are likely to be the ones who will suffer most.

Our very own South African Jewish community has been witness to some hideous divorces and I am sure that some of our more high profile cases would rank up there with the best stories from Beverly Hills.

The South African Justice Department’s 2012-13 annual report showed that the divorce rate had rocketed by 28 per cent from 39 573 to 50 517 cases but the stats still do not tell us what percentage of marriages end in divorce here.

Causes of further acrimony between divorced couples – particularly when there are children – are numerous, say psychologists. Perhaps one of them finds a new partner and the other person is not yet settled and happy in their life.

The dissatisfied partner may be resentful and then makes it difficult for the other (happier former spouse) by using the children as pawns. Or the financial arrangements don’t feel equitable. This may lead to lengthy, expensive and animosity-fuelled legal proceedings and again the children may be drawn into the conflict.

Yet even when the relationship between the former spouses is good – if there are children involved – for the rest of time one is sharing and negotiating terms for one’s most valuable assets with a person one has decided to no longer be married to and whose life, potential future partner and priorities are no longer in line with one’s own. It is – even in the best of cases – one of the toughest situations to deal with.

Parenting arrangements vary – but can be anything that is deemed by the parents, a mediator or in acrimonious cases – by the court, in the child’s best interests.

Jonathan Clements, author and scriptwriter, and a divorced father, wrote in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago that one should think of one’s relationship with the former spouse as a business relationship. “Forget the bad blood. Ignore stuff that isn’t your business. Instead, focus on the task at hand, which is raising the children.”

Yet this can be so difficult because there are times when overwhelming anger or frustration prevails, which is now not moderated by the conventions of marriage with its spirit of compromise.

Former spouses may differ on childrearing strategies or dislike the new partner and often if the children spend more time with the “ex”, the other parent may experience a deep sense of loss. Also, dealing with the issues that crop up through the lives of one’s children – discipline problems, disappointing school reports, teenage angst – requires a lot of co-operation and restraint.

If parents are not amicable, resolving these already tricky issues can be almost impossible and much more stressful for the children. The negative effects on children when parents are at war – even when married and especially when divorced – are well researched. Children can become anxious, guilty, distracted, and be made to feel like double agents in a spy thriller.

Yes, getting divorced with children and successfully navigating all the obstacles requires soul searching and trying to put one’s selfish interests aside. If both parties can focus on being the best co-parents possible, they will at least know that they have managed to traverse the treacherous territory of close co-operation with a person they consciously chose to disengage from.

And while they could not provide their children with the original happily married unit, they are both offering their precious progeny a fine example of compromise, empathy and maturity.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. ben poswell

    Aug 13, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    ‘BH

    An incredible article, pity this article wasn’t around

    20 years ago when I got divorced.

    This article should be pinned on every shul notice board

    around the world.

    kol tuv

    ketiva v.chasima tova’

  2. anonymous

    Aug 13, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    ‘While divorce is most often very difficult on all, to add to the complexity is how some men deny their spouses the GET.  There are a few notable cases where a husband has had an adulterous affair which resulted in the collapse of the marriage and still has the chutzpah to refuse to give his wife the GET.  Surely this is problematic from a Jewish perspective?  How do couples that are divorced in a civil court then remain amicable when such a control is placed one over the other ?’

  3. Judy Yacov

    Aug 13, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    ‘Insightful and caring analysis of a difficult situation’

  4. Fazil

    Oct 20, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    ‘If divorce is treated like  a business then it becomes the objective of both partners to ensure that they are both miserable!

    Divorce is not wished on your worst enemy and requires cool heads to prevail for your own and that of the children’s sanity. You mature out of this, feel confident  and wont ever again feel vulnerable to the machinations of the opposite spouse!’

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