At one point or another during practically every divorce mediation session, I remind the soon-to-be-exes that they will be a family forever. Only their marital status and their living situation will change.  I offer up scenarios where they’ll be together as a family: graduations, birthdays, weddings, holidays, school performances.  And I reinforce that being civil with one another during the divorce process is a pretty good indicator of positive interactions down the road.

In mediation, I always bring up the in-laws when talking about child custody, visitation, and parenting plans.  Sometimes it’s a revelation that divorcing couples are also divorcing their entire extended families.  And sometimes misplaced loyalty finds its way to the children with the potential for subsequent adverse effects.

A pretty accurate predictor is the type of relationship that existed prior to the divorce.  Did Mike call his in-laws “Mom” and “Dad?”  Or did he call them anything at all?  Did Emily have more than a surface-level relationship with her brother-in-law, Jason?  Or with her husband’s sister, Jessica?  Did Mike’s in-laws respect him, or did they think he was a loser? Has Emily even seen or spoken with Jason or Jessica since the separation?

How can divorced couples co-exist with their former in-laws?

One suggestion I have is for the divorcing couple to develop the characteristics of a turtle:  retreating into one’s shell when necessary. But a better suggestion is that the couple and their respective families make an attempt to establish a few ground rules for moving forward.

Here are some examples that have proven successful:

  • Encourage your parents and siblings to be Switzerland; try not to take sides in issues that don’t concern them.
  • Set your own limits as to what information you pass on to your family.
  • Insist that there be no badmouthing of your ex in front of you, and most emphatically, never in front of your kids.
  • Remind everyone that they can be civil and you won’t look at their civility as a betrayal of you.
  • Be patient.  It will take awhile for your extended families to adjust to your “uncoupling.”
  • Remember that there are no victims here.  Insist that you not be treated as one.


A Mediated Settlement Agreement as part of the divorce process may contain language referencing the ground rules divorcing couples make with respect to their extended families.  And even post-divorce, if co-existing with the in-laws remains problematic, and if the kids are being put in the middle, maybe one session with a qualified Mediator is a good idea.  I always offer a free 30 minute consultation, and have flexible hours to accommodate varying schedules.  I’d appreciate the opportunity to help.