|On Breaking Up
by David Wetherow
responding to a writer on a mailing list who is going through a
divorce and hoping to establish joint custody. The other parent is demanding
sole custody 'on the grounds that a joint placement schedule would be
too much of a disruption for a child [with a developmental
First and foremost, what every kid needs, and
especially kids who are vulnerable due to disability, is the loving,
enduring, and 'on purpose' presence of family, friends and allies.
We want to anchor and secure these relationships
in as many way as possible.
What every child needs, and especially children
who are vulnerable to disability, is to see the adults in her life
operating with affection, good will, and deep respect. S/he needs to see
them solving problems
in respectful, creative ways, sharing responsibilities, creating
connections, seeking and celebrating the child's gifts, acting in
Parents can do all of these things even when
separated. Even when divorced. Shared custody sends a powerful signal
about acting in concert.
I want to tell you two stories...
A friend of ours, long divorced, shared a duplex
with his ex-wife and their child. The little girl was able to spend part
of her time with her mom, part of her time with her dad, simply by going
up and down stairs. The couple sustained this arrangement for about ten
years, and when their daughter went away to college, our friend
established his own home, and a new relationship, in a nearby community.
One more story - ours...
Faye and I share Amber's life, and her care, and
our home, with Amber's dad (Faye's ex-husband). What this means is
that together, we figure it out on a day-to-day basis. It's not always
easy (nothing is always easy), but what Amber sees is a working
collaboration. She sees us negotiating, supporting each other, helping
each other make it through the day, the week, the seasons. She knows
that she is safe.
If her dad lived five blocks, or five miles
away, we'd be doing the same thing.
From one perspective, the big issue isn't
'custody', but collaboration. However, in my view, shared custody
creates a much stronger basis for this collaboration than single
custody, with the 'non-custodial' parent being formally relegated to a
diminished role. I would strongly encourage both you and your spouse to
make the investment in figuring out how to make shared custody work.
With respect to whether joint or shared custody
is 'too confusing' for a child with Down Syndrome, the assumption is
unfounded, prejudiced and demeaning. What will be confusing to this
child (to any child) is friction, mal-communication, non-cooperation.
What would be devastating to this child would be the de facto loss of a
parent. You both need to be there
for her, and if you work it right, you can be there for each other.
Faye and I conduct a form of personal futures
planning called PATH. We've often thought about using PATH as a way for
people to plan a marriage (what's your vision, your heartfelt hope?),
but in the past few months, we've actually thought about the possibility
that people could use it to plan a separation or divorce where a child
(especially a child with vulnerabilities) is involved.
For both of you: What is your vision, your
heartfelt hope? What do you most deeply want for your child? For
yourselves? What would be happening in a couple of years if you both did
good work in the direction of that vision for a year? For a couple of
years? Where are we now? To get from where we are now to where we want
to be, who do we need
to enroll? What do we need to do to get stronger? What are our first
This is very different from the kind of planning
that the lawyers tend to lead us through (a good marriage/separation
counsellor would be more likely to take this tack). It works best as a
facilitated process - it's hard for a separating couple to do this by
themselves. But it's possible, and it could be a fruitful direction.
If you want to talk about this in person, or correspond
in person, visit our website at http://www.communityworks.info and
follow the 'contact us' link.
I'm glad you persisted in telling your story.
© 2003 David and Faye Wetherow !