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.