The good divorce

Documentary looks at couples who try to put children first, differences second

January 8, 2009

Stuart Laidlaw

Maureen Palmer spent a few nights sleeping in her ex-husband's basement back in the '90s, struggling to remain a mother to their two girls despite a divorce and careers that had taken them to different cities.

That was 13 years ago, and divorces were assumed to be acrimonious. But she and her husband were determined to keep things civil for their girls. She knew it had all been worth it when her daughters, now in their 20s, made a suggestion.

"Last summer, the girls said, `You and dad should write a book called How to Divorce and Not Wreck the Kids,'" Palmer remembers.

Instead, she made a documentary, which airs tonight at 9 on CBC, then again Saturday on Newsworld at 10 p.m.

Palmer says couples are rapidly moving away from the bitter divorces of the past, with long and expensive legal battles that left behind "a truly broken family," as the film laments.

How to Divorce & Not Wreck the Kids follows three couples as they struggle to end their marriages without hurting their children.

One couple, Roland and Carolye, don't have a lot of money, so use a do-it-yourself divorce kit and convert their 13-year marriage into something of a friendship.

Mike and Melissa, who have a bit more money, hire a mediator for $2,500 to see them through some of the bitterness as their five-year marriage ends. Things get a bit bumpy when Mike decides he wants shared custody of their twins.

With the most money of the three couples, Sally and Lionel hire specially trained collaborative lawyers, costing $20,000 and soon put the professionals' skills to the test as they fight over equity in the family home and Sally's claim to a share of Lionel's booming business.

Palmer says this is where the true value of a collaborative approach comes out. When the stress becomes too much for Sally, both lawyers call a timeout allowing the two sides to calm down before going back into negotiations to find a solution.

In a confrontational approach, however, Lionel's lawyer would have gone in for the kill once Sally started to show any weakness, Palmer says. But that would have just led to bitterness and hard feelings that ultimately would have been bad for the children.

The new approach is booming.

In 2000, just 75 lawyers across the country were trained as collaborative lawyers. Today, there are more than 2,800, which Palmer says shows parents don't want to damage their children just to settle a few scores with a spouse they once loved.

"Nobody wants to be that couple," Palmer says.

In the film, divorce expert Joan Kelly offers a simple measure of whether a couple's collaborative approach works: If the children are comfortable telling a parent what they did while visiting the other parent, they are surviving the divorce just fine.

What it shows, Palmer says, is that the children are not worried about petty jealousies or competition between the parents, and feel safe talking about their situation.

Parents who are able to pull that off, Palmer says and Kelly argues in the film, are able to raise children who are as well-balanced and happy as children from homes where the parents stayed together.

In making the documentary, Maureen Palmer and her team put together a website to help couples split amicably. The site includes hints, a template for a collaborative divorce agreement, software for managing custody times and more. Go to


Toronto Star



Commentary in the Toronto Star by the Ottawa Men's Centre


While our judiciary demonstrate such flagrant bias, there is little point to men even asking the court for any relief. If it gets acrimonious, odds are a judge will simply "end the litigation" by making draconian orders that have nothing to do with the best interests of children. Collaborative lawyers appear to be "born again" legal professionals and should be treated more scrutiny than any experienced lawyer who has a reputation for "settling or negotiating", these same "collaborative lawyers" can and do change hats into acrimonious litigators simply by exchanging clients with yet another "collaborative lawyer". The only solution is for a legal presumption of equal parenting after separation and an end to the Judicial War against Men.

Submitted by ottawamenscentre at 3:02 PM Thursday, January 08 2009