November 6, 2019 by Lori Grover, NCM, Chair of Rhode Island NPO and Divorce Mediator
When I made the decision to get divorced, I was determined to separate the problems I had with my husband from the co-parenting relationship our daughter needed us to have. But within the legal system, the well-being of our daughter was never a concern. This discovery led me to become a mediator, open the only practice dedicated exclusively to divorce mediation in the state of Rhode Island, and to now start a chapter of the National Parents Organization in that state, one of only two states to get an “F” in the Shared Parenting Report Card.
During our divorce, my husband and I had numerous conversations with our attorneys about dividing our assets, but neither of them ever asked about our daughter or our plan for co-parenting; It was assumed that I would have placement and my husband would have visitation. When I asked about our daughter having more time with her father, my lawyer told me whatever time they had together in addition to the Court order was at my discretion. This was the last straw, and it’s when I convinced my husband that it was in all of our best interests for us to take control of our divorce.
My divorce experience and the one-size-fits-all adversarial nature of the legal system is why I became a lawyer and then a mediator. I saw how divisive and financially focused the system can be, setting up both parents and children for failure. Over the past thirteen years, I have worked hard to reorient the way parents approach divorce. In my mediation practice, how a couple divides material possessions is second to building the foundation for a respectful co-parenting partnership after divorce. This approach has changed the minds of many parents and benefited many children over the years.
Restrictive visitation schedules also do not align with the dynamics of today’s families nor do they represent the level of responsibility many fathers have in raising their children. But the outdated parenting beliefs still held by many legal professionals limit a child’s access to one parent after divorce. This creates an unnatural separation, minimizing the role both parents play in a child’s development.
As a mediator who has worked with over one thousand couples, I have seen quite a few high conflict divorces. I never questioned the love those parents had for their children, but I have seen divisiveness over time-sharing schedules. This divisiveness can be overcome with education, support, and eliminating the biases and stereotypes that prevent divorcing parents from transitioning their relationship as a couple to co-parenting partners.
It is so important for parents to see their divorce through their children’s eyes and recognize that new schedules, new routines and new homes are just a few of the adjustments children will make. Although children adapt to divorce and the new ‘normal’ of their lives, adaptation does not mean they thrive. But children do not ride the rollercoaster of divorce alone. Parents must also make difficult emotional adjustments. The feelings of loss associated with not reading a bedtime story, helping with homework or having dinner together can be powerful. As hard as it is for parents to make this adjustment it’s important to help parents understand that feelings of grief and loss are amplified in children who often lack the maturity and intellect to understand and manage such powerful feelings and emotions.
There is a lot of work to be done to help families separate and restructure in a healthy way. In Rhode Island couples are not encouraged to use mediation, and to some degree the process is resented and frowned upon by attorneys. On the bright side, the number of couples choosing mediation instead of attorneys continues to rise since I opened my practice in 2006. My passion for helping families of divorce prompted me to write my forthcoming book Separate Homes, Connected Lives, which helps parents understand their feelings, and provides a blueprint for creating healthy sustainable co-parenting plans and child-centered co-parenting relationships that help children thrive after divorce. I am honored to bring the National Parents Organization to Rhode Island as one more part of my mission to educate parents and advocate for much needed legal changes that will make divorce easier and less traumatic for children and parents. It is time to stop fighting over our children and start fighting for them.
Lori A. Grover is a Nationally Certified Divorce Mediator in private practice in Rhode Island.