The Big Split

11 Jul

From .Copyright © 2012 Michael H. McGee. All rights reserved. Please feel free to share or re-post all or part non-commercially, hopefully with attribution.

I was truly inspired by the way Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes handled their recent separation. Remember that I spent years as a family lawyer. I know the difference between a good and a bad split. Theirs was a good split.

Bad splits involve either money or children. Fights over money may be hard on the separating spouses, yet they’re both consenting adults, and money has no soul of its own. The very worst fights are those over children, who have sensitive souls and are in no way able to consent to what their parents are doing.

There are many couples who love each other, or care deeply about each other, and still decide to end their marriages. I’d put Tom and Katie into this category. They seemed more than anything to have grave differences in their philosophies of life.

They could have fought for years about the huge sums of money they both legitimately have. It takes a TON of respect and cooperation for two adults to avoid the need to fight like cats and dogs over the sums at issue between them.

In this way, though, they’re not very different than any other separating couple. Even if the net assets of the marriage are only ten thousand dollars, that ten thousand means as much to that couple as the hundreds of millions mean to TomKat.

I’ve seen couples fight viciously over small sums of money, because those small sums are what they have and all they have and their asset split will decide how they will live after separation. Usually only one of the two is being unreasonable (read: the one who was not my client). Occasionally, though, both are unreasonable and out of control (read: I tried my best to control my client).

However much the love of money may be the root of all evil, though, the love of children can be the root of the most damaging and long lasting evils when two people end their marriage. Again it is important to stress the obvious: children who are underage do not get to consent or decide on a separation, and they are the ones who bear the ongoing stress of a custody battle. TomKat obviously knew this elementary fact, and refused to engage in the stressful and largely unnecessary behavior played out in a knock-down-drag-out custody battle.

Of course there are times when one parent is either unstable or totally unreasonable (read: not my client), and the other parent (read: my innocent and long-suffering client) is forced to defend in court against the sometimes barbaric, or even simply unreasonable, demands of an unfit spouse.

As always, in most separations both of the spouses love their children deeply. In most of these situations a solution is worked out for the children without an unnatural level of conflict, and the children become the winners, which is as it should be, now and always, world without end.

In many situations there is a high potential for conflict over the custody of the children, yet both parents are interested in acting in the best interests of the children. Sometimes these conflict bursts into the open, sometimes they are muted and of short duration, and sometimes the conflicts are resolved privately and without involving the children. The most common outcome in such potential conflict situations is a muted conflict of short duration.

Let’s say both the husband and the wife intensely desire to have custody of the children, and their desire includes a love for the children. A potential conflict is thus present. These matters often are resolved when both parents put up a fight, yet in the end one of the parents declines to fight a blood-battle and the children go to the other parent.

These situations are thus resolved with the wisdom of Solomon: the claimant who doesn’t want to see the child cut in half demonstrates real love for the children. This is not to say the other parent is lacking in love for the children: the low-conflict parent, by taking this path, is explicitly recognizing that the prevailing parent does love the children and is a fit and proper person to have custody of them.

The low-conflict parent is acting out of genuine love and respect, and ends up working in the best interests of the children, even if by doing so the parent is losing something extremely valuable in the process. What the low conflict parent is losing is the primary right to have the children live with them, and this parent is also likely to have to pay child support. This is a very difficult choice, yet probably a necessary choice if the children are to have the best possible life with both parents after the divorce.

When divorces involving minor children proceed from the principle of loving the children, the world will always be a better place even though a divorce is a terrible thing for anyone to undertake.

Even if no children are involved, or where a husband and wife with children have the choice of facing off against each other, there is a principle involved. The inevitable trauma to the primary parties to the divorce will be lighter if each spouse recognizes the past shared love which most likely once existed, and may still exist even in the throes of the separation. And also recognize that the money and other possessions are less important than the future satisfaction and emotional health of the one we once loved.

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