The Divorce Heritage

Divorce Heritage

What Impact does Your Divorce Have on Your Family Heritage?

As we celebrate our Heritage during the month of September in South Africa, honoring our diverse cultures and the various legacies inherited from past generations, I would like to explore the true extent of heritage for families.

Through the ages, mankind has always endeavoured to preserve its tangible, natural and cultural heritage. Each generation has faced its own challenges with the maintenance and celebration thereof. The rapid rise in divorce over the last fifty odd years, has a profound impact on the heritage of our families and communities.

When we opt for divorce, it is paramount to accept this fact and grasp the full extent of it. Not only does the status quo change within our inner circles, but the impact reaches far outside among the family, friends and communities in which we live and function.

As families, we have a tangible heritage too, such as homes which are our monuments; parks, school grounds and holiday destinations which are our urban landscapes; works of art and artefacts depicting the growth and development of each member; photographs taken on special occasions and story books read by generations.

Don’t burn your wedding photographs

During divorce, we should be careful not to disregard the importance of a family home providing a safe haven and familiar base from which to go out into the world and to return to whenever needed. Similarly, the urban landscapes in which we live our daily lives are an integral part of who we are. Sudden changes to or loss of these monuments and landmarks should receive careful consideration before being imposed on our families.

The arts and crafts created by our family members from their childhood through to their old age, deserve a rightful place in the halls of fame, along with each individual’s achievements, regardless of divorce or new blended families. These are reminders of where we come from and the talents we inherited from our forefathers and should be preserved for future generations to refer to. Photographs record the milestones and special occasions celebrated with loved ones and become a valuable reflection of our timelines. The same goes for the books our grand-parents read to our parents and again to us and so on, which are precious heirlooms.

Imagine the huge sense of loss for adults and children alike, when you no longer live in the family home and don’t have regular access to all those familiar heirlooms, as a result of divorce.

Equally valuable is our natural heritage and the support we show as families to preserve and care for our limited resources. Some would be devastated to leave behind a lovingly cultivated garden and others would mourn the loss of a beloved family pet that cannot be accommodated in a new dwelling after divorce. Not being able to visit favourite nature retreats or participate in regular community initiatives, robs us of the opportunity to find solace in familiar surroundings or make a positive contribution.

The way we behave during divorce has a huge influence on our future intangible heritage. When we disrespect and hurt the people we love, a culture of pain and suffering develops, resulting in bitterness and resentment. When we deceive and betray our partners, dishonesty and distrust becomes customary. When we engage in prolonged and unfair legal battles, conflict and bullying becomes common practice. Similarly, when we actively alienate children and parents, we enable negative values such as selfishness, insecurity and rivalry. Healthy relationships and bonding are no longer valuable and our beliefs in loyalty and honour suffer tremendously.

Are you unknowingly alienating your child from the other parent?

If divorce interferes or brings an end to our inherited traditions and rituals, we get lost and lose our sense of belonging to our tribe. We are left with little or no notion of family values and customs to honour and uphold as defining characteristics in society.

It is vital that we critically evaluate the impact on the future heritage of our divorced and blended families, which we are creating in our daily lives:

Are we crafting cause for future celebration in spite of this divorce heritage or are we setting the stage for mourning loss and shame?

Trends – Living Apart Together

living apart

My husband and I are onto something . . .

As a widowed divorce lawyer, I was uniquely aware of how difficult it is for blended families to combine households. So when my new husband and I decided to get married, I was concerned about how a widow with 4 children and a single-dad with joint custody of three children could possibly live together. The solution was easy: don’t.

Old problem; New Solution

We’re not alone in our conclusion that living apart is an elegant solution to an age-old problem. A paper published by Princeton University in 2008 studied “Live Apart Together” relationships and concluded that “a greater number of break-ups of second unions, as well as the abundance of media reports about couples in Live Apart Together relationships may have contributed to the rise of this more independent form of relationship.”

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Living Apart Puts Kids First

We realized quickly that unless we found (and could even afford!) an 8-bedroom home, cohabiting would necessarily require us to install everyone in shared rooms and bunk beds-something we wanted to avoid in an attempt to give everyone their own retreat from a hectic household.

We concluded that it was better for adults-with “adult” coping skills-to sacrifice waking up side-by-side every day than it was for our seven children to sacrifice their bedrooms, their privacy, their personal possessions (“No that’s MY iPod!!”), and their budding relationship as life-long step-siblings.

So, now instead of asking “When can they leave?” my kids are eager to see their step-siblings and ask “When are they coming?” and “How long can they stay?”

“You’re Not My Mom!!”

As a widow, I am my children’s only parent. They need time and attention from me alone without a step-parent’s constant presence. My step-children, on the other hand, only have access to my husband one-half of the time under his divorce decree. We felt it would be unfair to his children to make them compete for attention with my kids during that precious “one-half” of their time.

Living apart gives us each just enough elbow room to raise our children under our own unique rules and in a way that honors or respects the children’s other parent, while still giving them all the benefits of a loving and involved step-parent.

Marriage ala carte!

Living apart allows us to “cherry pick” all the good parts of marriage while mitigating the hard parts. My husband does hours upon hours of yoga. He also obsesses over baseball . . . all at his own house. Living apart means he doesn’t have to compromise his “alone time” or temper interests and attitudes that could become invasive and annoying if I was exposed to them 24/7.

Separate but Equal

Living apart creates a relationship of true equality: I do the dishes at my house; he does the dishes at his. The day-to-day responsibilities that may become lopsided and that may cause resentment between cohabiting spouses are naturally and equally divided between us. The result is that our marriage is almost entirely devoid of conflict. We do not squabble over who “forgot to stop at the grocery store” or who “never takes out the trash.” To each his own.

Cautions and Caveats

Despite its benefits, a “Live Apart Together” relationship is not for everyone. There are certain caveats that must be considered for such an arrangement to be successful:

You have to live in proximity and have similar lifestyles

The houses need to be close enough to allow each partner quick and easy access to the other and should be similar in terms of style and value-it would be an unworkable situation if one family was living in a shack in the countryside while the other was living 15 miles away in a suburban mansion.

You have to value independence and personal responsibility

You must be the kind of person who likes and needs to be independent and who values autonomy. If you are lonely, clingy, or the kind of person who is insecure and indecisive, a live-apart lifestyle will leave you feeling isolated and uncertain.

You can’t be the suspicious or jealous type

When your spouse goes home for the night, there will be 8 or more hours of his time that is unaccounted for. When you don’t see him off to work in the morning, and are not there when he comes home at night, you must be the kind of person who can trust he is the same person when he is with you as he is when he is not. If you cannot handle some physical and emotional distance, this lifestyle is not for you.

It is more expensive-but not cost-prohibitive-to live apart

You will have two cable bills and two mortgages and two electric bills, etc. But, you would have those anyway if you had never met each other. Combining households can mitigate and mainstream certain expenses, but the intangible costs of cohabitation and the taxes on your relationship with your spouse and children must be part of any cost-benefit analysis.