Child between parents trying to understand divorce

Your Kids and Divorce: Mediating a Child-First Divorce

What do kids and divorce negotiations have to do with one another?

A lot! (for parents).

Thinking about your kids could be the best decision you’ll make in your divorce negotiation.

Your Kids’ Shoes

I recently wrapped up a mediation that was a model child-centered divorce.

The parents weren’t buddies. They didn’t spend a lot of time together. They disagreed a lot during mediation.

In fact, they didn’t particularly like each other.

But they love their kids, and despite the obvious personal tension between them they embraced their redefined relationship: co-parents for life.

And they realized that to make a great parenting plan they needed some perspective.

Kids and Divorce Mediation

What kind of perspective?

Your kids!

Some would ask what a child’s perspective has to do with divorce negotiations, so let me explain.

The degree to which your parenting plan meets your children’s needs can profoundly affect how well they adapt to divorce.

My divorce mediation clients worked hard to put themselves in their children’s shoes and consider their perspective when crafting the parenting schedule, holiday division, and the many other parts of their parenting plan.

And the way in which they did this was usually subtle. They’d ask questions like:

She has all these activities…what kind of drop-off arrangement do we think would be least stressful for her?

You know, she’s really worried about the dog…would you ever consider having her bring the dog with her when she’s at your place?

He’s really anxious and worried about upsetting either of us…can we figure out how to explain the plan to him together? Maybe we can have a family meeting?

You know his friends are his life…we need to figure out a way to make sure we’re on the same page about play dates and birthday parties…

I think alternating Christmas, which is what I’d personally like to do, would be devastating for them…how can we make this work so it’s still special for them and not impossible for us?

Your Kids and Divorce…

Walking in your kids’ shoes for a moment can take the focus away from your spousal conflict and place it on what binds you most meaningfully: your children.

And will lead to a better child-centered parenting plan.

stone marker list the par of a golf hole

Is All Fair in Love and War? Lessons for Marriages, Divorce, and Separation Agreements

Common separation agreement ideas:

We’ll just split things down the middle. That’s just the fair thing to do.”

“We just want to be fair so we’ll add it all up and split it 50/50.”

These are reasonable ideas.

But does that mean they are “fair?”

What Do You Mean? Of Course it Does!

Does fairness mean things need to be equal?

Many think so.

If that’s the case then why do golfers follow the USGA Handicap System?

Why let some kids use training wheels longer than others?

Or, why do educators modify classroom instruction for kids who have trouble learning?

Interestingly, these are unequal ways of creating fairness for golfers and children.

Yeah, But You Can’t Compare Biking to Divorce and Marriage

Actually, you can.

Do you know what often happens when families see fairness as equality?


The reality is that we are all different.

We have different temperaments. Different strengths. Different weaknesses.

We also have different needs.

Let’s take the example of a divorcing couple’s home.

It is common for a separation agreement to stipulate a sale of the marital home. I often hear, for example, that it’s “only fair” to sell the house, pay off the mortgage, and split the profit 50/50.

This certainly is equal.

But is it “fair” if the wife has no alternative living situation, she will still not have enough for a new apartment or down-payment on a condo, and the husband is moving in with his parents at no cost?

Both need a place to live. One has a no-cost option, and one has a high-cost option that will accrue debt. In this case, it might be “fair” for the wife to keep the house, and to split the other assets in a different manner.

It’s not equal, but it sure seems fair.

So What About the Marriage Part?

Is it fair if your spouse goes out with her friends one night per week when you only go out once a month?

Maybe, if her friends are important to her and she’ll get stuff off her chest.

Is it fair for your spouse to go camping with boys for a weekend while you stay at home with the kids?

Maybe, if it re-charges his batteries.

Is it fair for your spouse to spend more on clothes this year than you?

Maybe, if her size changed and she just got a new job.

OK, OK…But What Does This Have To Do With a Separation Agreement?


After all, the Massachusetts divorce laws stipulate that the court will use a standard called “equitable division.” This does not mean that your things have to be divided exactly in half, but it does mean that the decision has to be fair.

Wait? I thought things HAD TO BE EQUAL in order to be fair!

Fair does NOT mean equal.

Fair DOES mean giving people what they need to be successful.

Bottom Line…

Trying to make equal decisions in marriages and divorces is possible.

But probably won’t get you what you need.

Trying to make fair and reasonable decisions in marriages and divorces might be harder.

But it will improve communication, decrease resentment, and far more likely give you both what you need.

Give it a shot.

After all, that would only be the fair thing to do.

Please share by commenting below — I’d love to hear from you!

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Top view of young businessman making decision, thought cloud above head with a question mark

Decision Making That Will Stick: Mediation Examples You Can Learn From


I hear “I should…” all the time.

General Life Examples of I Should Decision Making:

  • I should go to the gym…(but watches more TV instead)
  • I should go on a diet…(but digs in to her ice cream instead)
  • I should save more money…(but shops online instead)
  • I should call her and mend fences…(but holds the grudge instead)

I should, I should, I should…

Mediation Examples of I Should Decision Making:

  • Divorce Mediation: “I should stop bringing it up…” (but she does anyway)
  • Parent Teen Mediation: “I should stop suffocating her and give her more space…” (but she texts every hour anyway)
  • Marital Mediation: “I should apologize…” (but he remains defensive anyway)

I should, I should, I should…

Red Flag Decision Making

How often do you say I should in a week when you are trying to make your own decisions?

Too many times would be my guess.

To my ears any sentence beginning with I should is a red flag. It most likely means that you are feeling pressured or compelled to do (or not do) something based on the expectations of someone else. It is natural of course for our decisions to be influenced by others.

But think about it – isn’t there a difference between being influenced to make your own decisions and the influencer making decisions for you?

The thing with I shoulds is that they often do not lead to action. More often than not they are code for “Well, I kinda want to but not really.” And what normally happens with a “well, I kinda want to but not really?”


Decision Making 2.0: Mediation Examples Illustrate a Better Approach

There are a lot of strategies to help folks make better decisions like this one I read that provide four useful strategies. But what if you were to make just one change?

Stop saying I should and instead say I will.

What do you think would happen if you replaced I should with I will?

Would you be more likely to follow through on your decision making? More likely to make your own decisions (versus someone else making decisions for you)? My guess is yes and yes. After all, the way we think and talk can have a great influence on the way we behave.

Let’s take a look at the three mediation examples from earlier – when I replace I should with I will, do they sound or feel different to you?

  • Divorce Mediation: “I will stop bringing it up…”
  • Parent Teen Mediation: “I will stop suffocating her and give her more space…”
  • Marital Mediation: “I will apologize…”

In what ways do you think replacing I should with I will can change the way you make your own decisions? Or someone you know?

Please comment below – I would love to hear from you!