The Designer Divorce
May 17th, 2010 by Christina

Anytime you become a member of one of life’s many clubs, you’re introduced to new terminology. When you’re planning a wedding, you start tossing around terms like registry and flatware. Parenthood brings forth birth plan and lactation consultant. In the divorce zone, the lingo includes custody, mediator, and spousal support (that last one sounds like an uncomfortable device you might have to learn to live with after an operation, doesn’t it?)

Well, I was thinking recently about some of these terms and how one might want to customize them to suit one’s particular needs. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Joint Custody of Unpleasant Things. It’s easy enough to divvy up the days of the week and alternate important holidays with your spouse-turned-co-parent, but doing it that way is so random and risky. Either one of you could end up unwillingly accompanying one of your children to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, or amusing them on a snow day, based solely on whose day it happens to be. Instead, I like the idea of a more personalized approach to custody. For example: I take the kids when they have fevers or respiratory ailments, but R gets anything involving a malfunctioning digestive system. R would probably prefer not to be on-duty for either girl’s first period—so, fine, I’ll take that along with bra shopping if he agrees to field any questions about the male reproductive system. You get the idea.
  • Mediator/Couple’s Therapist Who Admits She Likes You Better. Recently, a few of my pals who’ve done couple’s therapy shared a few tales. One guy said he probably would have stayed in his marriage if their therapist had just admitted that his wife was, indeed, wrong about one specific thing. We all totally got that. While the attempted neutrality of marital professionals is admirable, who are they kidding? They’re human, after all. In any triangle situation, someone’s the odd man or woman out even if he or she doesn’t know it. I, for one, could tell early on that our therapist knew which one of us was right about absolutely everything, and it’s so clear that our mediator feels the same way. Thank goodness I know how to interpret those subtle winks and facial gestures.

I wanted to come up with a third thing in this vein, but I couldn’t. So it’s your turn. What’s your personal fantasy twist on the customs of separation and divorce?

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We are Family (kind of).
Mar 8th, 2010 by Christina

Last Thursday was my younger daughter’s birthday, so the four of us went out for dinner to celebrate.

The four of us means R was there.

We’ve done this before, of course–re-enacted scenes from our former life as an intact family. We’ve done it on Christmas morning (twice) and on the girls’ birthdays.

I realize it’s good that we can pull off the amicable thing. I sense how happy it makes the girls to have both of their parents in the same room. According to Constance Ahrons’ rubric in The Good Divorce, R& I are “Cooperative Colleagues.” She defines five types of divorcing couples, ranging from “Perfect Pals” (i.e. such good buddies that they should just stay together) to “Dissolved Duos” (think icky, mean Hollywood-style splits). Says Ahrons: “Cooperative Colleagues don’t consider each other close friends, but for the most part cooperate quite well around issues that concern the children … They spend occasional time together–usually special occasions, such as birthdays, school plays, or parent-teacher conferences.”

As sad and second rate as it is, I take pride in the fact that we effortlessly deceive restaurant staff into thinking we’re just another intact family, one where the parents don’t regularly meet in a mediator’s office. We leave the restaurant and walk together down the street, with the youngest daughter up on Daddy’s shoulders. We totally pass.

I find these times of temporary togetherness both grounding and unsettling. On the one hand, I’ve so adapted to my single-mom role with the girls that when R joins us I feel vaguely intruded upon–like, who is this guy who thinks he knows my kids so well that he can tell them what to do as if he’s their parent or something? But it’s also such a gift, one that I took for granted during all those years when the-four-of-us was a given. Another parent? Seriously? Someone who understands these two children–their dynamics, their strengths and weaknesses, their histories, their everything–exactly as I do? Someone around whom I can let down my guard a bit, as if I’m not the only one in charge? It almost sounds too good to be true.

When R showed up at the restaurant the other day, part of me wanted to say: “What are you doing here?” while another part wanted to shout: “Well, it’s about time you showed up! Where the @#$%^&* have you been for the past 20 months?”

But, being that we’re so amicable, and that it was our daughter’s birthday, I simply said “Hi.” Then we ordered sushi.

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Money Matters
Feb 15th, 2010 by Christina

I am so clueless when it comes to understanding the many machinations of money (yet admirable for almost always being able to alliterate?)

During our last couple of sessions with the mediator, money’s what we talked about–proving that, as with so many things in life, divorce ultimately comes down to cash: where it used to come from, where it will come from, who owns what, who owes what to whom, and who bought the girls their last pair of snow boots. (I did.)

My understanding of money has always been very basic (i.e., you earn it, you spend it, you need it), and being married to R enabled that blissful ignorance. From the moment we moved in together on my 27th birthday, financial matters were his responsibility. I was elated when we got our first joint checking account that year, partially because I felt so grown up and also because–honestly?–it felt comforting to have a man’s name on those checks. In fact, R’s name was printed above mine even though both of my initials precede his in the alphabet. I’m not sure how that happened, but so it did.

For all of our married years, it was mutually understood that R was the one who knew the difference between a 401K and an IRA, between a variable interest rate and whatever the other kind is. The fact that he received a regular paycheck, while my income as a freelancer was unpredictable, followed suit.

Hence, being forced to discuss matters financial for two hours in the mediator’s office is not my idea of fun. During the last session, I spaced out as the mediator tapped frantically on her calculator and R scribbled furiously on a pad. At one point, my gaze wandered to the solid metal paperweight shaped like a bunny on the little table next to me. I wondered what sound it would make if I threw it at the side of R’s head. (Yes, even we amicable couples have our moments.)

My bunny-paperweight-tossing fantasy was interrupted when the mediator asked me if I understood what we were talking about. I, too ashamed and polite to say, “NO, I have no f**king idea what the word equity means,” cheerfully responded: “Yes. Yep. Absolutely.”  I felt as dumb as Jeannie (as in I Dream of).

But, hold on, here comes the optimism: Tomorrow I start my full-time job. Even though I am well aware that cubicle life is not everyone’s idea of joy, and even though single working mom is not the label I’d pictured for myself, the thought of earning my own regular paycheck is empowering, relieving and kind of cool.

Soon, I plan to be a financially savvy force to be reckoned with.

(BTW, if you think you can describe the sound a metal bunny paperweight makes when it hits the head of a middle-aged man, by all means let me know.)

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