Calgary Herald

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Parents work hard to keep the peace

Kim Heinrich Gray
Calgary Herald

Today's divorced parents are doing things differently, experts say, making more efforts to keep the peace and share custody all for their kids' benefit.

"We're living in a more enlightened society than before. There's less acrimonious fighting between couples and a whole new sense of maturity about the issue of divorce," says psychologist and mediator Larry Fong -- who has been working with divorced couples for more than 20 years.

"Divorcing parents are much more interested in their children and their children's needs."

About 43 per cent of Canadian marriages end in divorce.

Still, says Fong, a large number of newly separated moms and dads are looking to mediate instead of litigate as an alternative way to resolve disputes -- including child custody issues.

"I get a lot of parents agreeing to reside in the same vicinity, with one parent living in the children's school jurisdiction," says Fong. "You've also got higher numbers of women who have careers. As a result, they're more willing to share parenting because of the importance of their own profession."

Another dramatic change over the past 20 years is that fathers are taking a more active role in their children's lives. "Putting kids in the bath. Taking them to their functions. Being co-operatively involved with the children in their daily lives," says Fong.

And this is a pattern, says Fong, that continues post-divorce.

Diane Shearer, a manager at Alberta Justice Family Mediation Services, says that occasionally parents agree to children remaining in the marital home with parents moving in and out of that home.

What seems to be a popular choice, Shearer says, is when parents choose to live in the same community.

"They can remain in the same district with the same friends and same school, yet move freely between mom's and dad's homes," she says. "Children can only stand to win in that sort of a situation."

Jane Warren, a mediator with the company Constructive Divorce, says the old stigma attached to divorce is fading.

"Before, it was that you had failed or done something wrong or that you were dysfunctional," says Warren, who went through a divorce and is now remarried.

Nowadays, says Warren, divorced couples who are about to merge families can seek resources in the community to help them troubleshoot.

"There is much more acceptance that a healthy divorced parenting situation is better for the kids than a dysfunctional marriage," says Warren.

She cites two books to which she refers her clients -- The Divorce from Hell and The Good Divorce.

"I can tell you what will happen to your kids in the divorce from hell -- they're psychologically scarred, they have difficulty forming relationships and they have trouble in school," says Warren.

"At Constructive Divorce, we're interested in dealing with people as long as they don't want to tear the other person apart."

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