Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few days, you have undoubtedly heard about the Calgary couple that used their divorce as an opportunity to nab a quick selfie.
Shannon and Chris Neumann looked like they were beaming as they exited the courthouse on August 27, 2015, just after filing for divorce.
In the caption, Shannon explained that the couple had done something “extraordinary”:
“We have respectfully, thoughtfully and honourably ended our marriage in a way that will allow us to go forward as parenting partners for our children, the perfect reason that this always WAS meant to be, so they will never have to choose.”
“They’ll never have to wonder which side of the auditorium to run to after their Christmas concert or spring play, because we’ll be sitting together. They won’t have to struggle with their own wedding planning because we’ll be sitting on the same side of the aisle – THEIR side.”
In the days that followed the post went viral. The couple has been receiving numerous accolades for being “inspiring”, with headlines like “Couple Posts Divorce Selfie with Inspiring Message” and “The excellent reason this ‘divorce selfie’ is going viral”.
But the divorce lawyer in me is just not truly convinced. To be clear, I think that the Neumanns have the best of intentions; intentions to live a harmonious lifestyle post-divorce, with a fluid custody arrangement and little conflict. But intentions sometimes do not stand up to the rigors of divorce.
I think that’s a critical piece of the story that that Neumann’s selfie is not telling. It’s like soon to be parents posting a pregnancy selfie with the following caption:
We have respectfully, thoughtfully and honourably decided to become parents. We intend to always be parenting partners for our children so that they will never need to hear us fight about whose turn it is to change the fifteenth diaper of the day.
They will never wonder if mom or dad love them because we will never yell and we will tell them each and every day how lucky we are that they are in our lives. They won’t need to struggle to pay for college, because we’ll be rich. Anyway, they’ll get full scholarships to Harvard because, well, genes. Our handmade costumes for the spring play will be glorious, as will the cookies that we bake for all the children in town.
*Comment from all parents everywhere: “LOL”.*
We would be chastising those people as sanctimonious “know-it-alls” who really have no idea what parenting is actually like.
Well, divorce, like parenting, is hard work.
A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.
– Liberty Hyde Baily
I have seen those couples in the selfies. They have walked in to my office with the best of intentions. But intentions require work. And sometimes, intentions don’t really pan out the way you had envisioned, because life happens. There is an argument about money, school, kids…the list goes on. Of course, divorce often magnifies problems, as the emotions of divorce make clear thinking extremely difficult.
That having been said, there are ways to minimize parenting conflict following a divorce:
- Make a detailed custody agreement – While an agreement can’t provide for every situation that may arise in the future, an agreement that provides for issues as children get older make it much easier to resolve many child related issues rather than going back to court and fighting about them later.
- Keep things factual – Don’t fight or complain just for the sake of it. If there is an issue, explain it rationally and open a dialogue rather than flying off the handle and hurling insults. In short: choose your battles, keep things clean and don’t fight dirty.
- Work, work, work – Tensions run very high soon after the divorce. Sometimes it dissipates, sometimes it doesn’t. Couples also work years to rebuild a co-parenting relationship, and then one dispute may send you back to your own personal dark age. Climbing out of conflict is hard and maintaining a civil relationship is even harder. But put in the effort to resolve your issues and you will be glad you did. This may involve co-parenting therapy or the use of a parenting coordinator to help you to minimize conflict.
- Put the children first – This is what the Neumanns (laudably) aspire to do. Even if you hate each other, go to the game, put on a smiling face and reserve the fighting for your 3 AM email exchange. It may be difficult, but the children will thank you for it later.
The Neumanns are certainly starting off on the right foot. They are committed, wonderful parents with the best of intentions. I wish the Neumanns many more happy selfies along their co-parenting journey.
Eliana T. Baer is a contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Eliana practices in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, New Jersey office and focuses her state-wide practice on representing clients on issues relating to divorce, equitable distribution, support, custody, adoption, domestic violence, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or email@example.com.