April 29, 2013

Keeping Knots Out Of Your Family Ties

Grandma with kidsMy mother-in-law was a great gift to me.  She was an amazing woman.  She was widowed while she still had six young kids to raise and had an immense heart and always time for anyone.  She was a foster mom too, and at one time or another each of her children and their partner and children had lived with her.  She went way beyond being a good mother-in-law, and was an awesome grandma as well.  I used to tease my husband that I married him for his mother.  Of course that wasn’t really true, but keeping my relationship with my in-laws, most especially with her, was a top priority for me as my husband and I discussed divorce.

I believe there are several reasons why my relationship with my in-laws didn’t end with our divorce. One is that my husband and I agreed not to talk negatively about the other with our families.  I believe it also helped that we agreed that I would write a note to my mother-in-law as well as to each of my husband’s siblings and their partner, announcing that we regretfully had decided that we needed a divorce, and that we each needed their continued love and support.  (I thought it was kinder to let them get the news when they weren’t facing us and could have their feelings and some time to process them.)  No doubt the biggest reason I achieved my primary goal was the size of my mother-in-law’s heart, but I think our decisions mattered too.  We did succeed in allowing important relationships to remain positive despite the divorce.  I continued to spend time with my mother-in-law, even spending some weekends with her, until her death a few years ago.

I have often asked clients  what people or activities they are most afraid of losing, and also talked specifically about what they might do to keep relationships with their partner’s family strong, assuming the relationships are positive, for them and for their children.  Often both partners list maintaining relationships as a goal in the first collaborative divorce meeting.  Some negotiate in their collaborative process how they can both stay in a group they have shared, whether it’s a faith community or a music group or whatever.  Divorce brings many unavoidable losses, so it’s important to try to minimize losses of people and groups that have been important to us, even where the relationships are less positive than I’ve described.

Collaborative Law can provide a setting in which to reach these kinds of agreements that don’t have any support in the law.

Mary Antonia WilmesABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Antonia Wilmes

Mary Antonia Wilmes’ career has been centered on families. She has been an attorney handling family law cases since 1985, has mediated family cases since 1993, and has handled collaborative cases since 2003. She is the mother of two and grandmother of six. Both Mary’s family and her clients continue to teach her how to best serve family members’ needs. Learn more about Collaborative Law also known as Collaborative Practice or Collaborative Divorce at our MN Institute website and at our international organization’s website.

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2 Responses to Keeping Knots Out Of Your Family Ties

  1. Carl Arnold says:

    What an important point to make…relationships matter, during and even after divorce! On a related note, I’ve been thinking more and more lately about how to help unmarried parents, who often have little or no connection to the other parent or the other parent’s family, start to build connections to the other parent and extended family, for the benefit of their child. That goal certainly won’t be accomplished in court. What a great fit for Collaborative Practice!

    • Mary Antonia Wilmes says:

      That’s a great idea, Carl. I know that those cases can be so hard because there’s no trust in the other’s parenting (or parents) built up.

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