When Communication Breaks Down, Part 1
Dear Mr. Dad: You often write about how couples can improve their communication and how that communication can protect their relationship. But what about after the relationship ends, which is what’s happening with my girlfriend and me?
A: It may sound strange, but communication during and after a divorce or breakup is still critical. First, maintaining a respectful, businesslike (or better) relationship will make it easier for you to reach equitable agreements on child custody and how to divide up your assets. Hopefully, you’ll be able to do this without expensive lawyers and court costs (about 90 percent of divorcing couples nationwide are able to settle out of court). Second—and most important—the biggest predictor of how well children will cope with the divorce or breakup is the level of conflict between the parents. The following may make your impending change in identity from “father” to “single father” (and your girlfriend’s transition from “mom” to “single mom”) a little less unpleasant.
- Get a lawyer. Yes, just three sentences ago I said it would be great if you could avoid lawyers, and that’s still true. Hiring a lawyer does not mean that you’re heading for the courtroom. Nor does it mean that you’re expecting a confrontation with your soon-to-be ex. What you’re doing is getting someone involved who, without any unpleasant emotional attachments, will protect your interests and make sure that your concerns are properly addressed. Most divorce lawyers have seen dozens of cases just like yours and know exactly what to look out for. Do you? You’re going to be under stress; there are a thousand intense and scary feelings running through your head at the same time; and you’ll probably want to avoid as much conflict as possible. That’s good. But that desire leads a lot of men facing a breakup to make decisions that are bad for them and bad for their children. A lawyer can help you draft fair property settlements and custody arrangements that will (hopefully) avoid conflict in the future.
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