Though you once played on the same team, divorce has you feeling like you’re playing on opposite sides of the court. But in the game of divorce, keeping score and blocking shots means no one wins.

It’s not uncommon to view divorce as a contest, like a basketball game, where one side must win and the other side must lose. A healthier way to think about your situation as you separate is not as opposing teams, but as still being on the same team with a different definition of “scoring” and what determines a “win.” Earlier in the marriage, a “win” might have been defined as:

  • Being financially successful
  • Being able to meet each other’s emotional and physical needs
  • Raising happy, successful children

After separation, a “win” for your new “team” could be:

  • Transitioning from one to two households as financially and emotionally pain-free as possible (score!)
  • If you have children, raising happy, emotionally secure, successful children (game over!)

If you have children this last “win” is the championship game of March madness. As is typically the case, when children’s interests are considered, the game takes on ultimate importance. Prior to separation it was easy to identify the “teams.” You and your spouse were charged with keeping your children safe, secure, and happy. After separation you will continue to have those goals, but the “teams” may no longer seem clear. When disagreements occur it is easy to forget that both parents want what is best for their children. Because both parents are striving for the same goal (to win the championship!) they need to continue to see themselves as being on the same team—the co-parenting team.

In sports there are many examples of teams with great talent that somehow couldn’t come together to perform as a great team. We often hear this blamed on lack of chemistry. A lack of chemistry and fighting among team members acts like a flu virus on the entire team—nobody can seem to find the cure and everyone is affected by the virus, and the team suffers. This is what happens when parents fight. The children can’t figure out how to make it stop, and are hurt by it every time they are exposed to it. The more the parents try to “provide more cure” by making their case in front of their children, i.e., “win” the game, the worse it is for their children.

In the worst case scenario, when parents end up in court fighting over their children, they are clearly on different teams. Unfortunately, the courts seldom provide the “win” that either parent desires. Rather than one team winning and one team losing, generally the children lose. We cannot remember a time we left the courtroom after a judge’s ruling in a family law matter and felt like one spouse or the other got a clear “win” for the children. So, to keep the team safe and happy during divorce, parents should play on the same team. Don’t expose children to a contest!!

Written “collaboratively” by Kerry Burleigh, a die-hard Tar Heel fan, and Dr. Justin Parker, a hard core Wolfpack supporter. See, if we can do it, anyone can.

Dr. Justin Parker is a licensed psychologist practicing at 3C Family Services. He specializes in child and adolescent psychology, and works as a Child Specialist and Coach in the Collaborative Divorce process.