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Comforting Couples Heading Into a Divorce: Smiles All Around

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I work with a lot of people who are ending marriages. It’s not because I love the drama and strife that occurs when a lifetime dream is crushed under the weight of custody agreements and parenting schedules. I’m here because of how poorly my wife handled the divorce. And I’m here because I believe with some healthy intervention, my divorce could’ve gone a lot better for all of us.

Working Out the Divorce

I meet with both moms and dads in divorce. I often will meet with both parents individually, and then together as a group. We will work in joint sessions to build a roadmap for the divorce that both parents can agree to. If the negotiations are easy, there would probably not be a need for a “divorce coach.” Negotiations, even when the couple is committed to cooperative divorce, are often conflicted. What she wants. What he wants. What’s best for the children.

Yes, I am meeting with the parents, but I am looking after the health and well-being of the kids as well. How we navigate divorce, and show our kids how to behave honorably in a difficult situation is part of what I am hoping to instill. You can divorce as friends. You can divorce and pick up a co-parenting relationship that is better than it was when you were married. I’ve seen it happen. Couples that support their ex-partners no matter what.

The laws in most states, however, are going to complicate things. In my case, Texas gives 85% of all moms the custodial parent role in divorce. The main reason is not parenting skills or the children. The main reason, is the state’s AG’s offices are primarily funded by child support “enforcement” budgets. How much money the AG’s office has under collections, determines how much money they get from the federal government. The states are incentivized to hitch a large child support payment to one of the two parents.

If you want 50/50 shared parenting, if you want to split the expenses 50/50, if you want to remain cooperative throughout the divorce process, and (most importantly) after the divorce, you’re going to have to consider the wellbeing of BOTH parents. And what I help couples do, in my coaching work, is to reach agreements that work for both adults. The benefit of this work is the kids who often get less than 30% of their dad’s time after divorce.

There Are Deadbeats

Yes, there are still deadbeats in the world. I have a friend who had two kids with a man she divorced several years ago. Despite the decree. This “dad” never once took his kids for the weekend. And never once paid a penny of court-ordered child support. “How is it possible?” I asked her. “That a father would simply “opt out” of their kids’ lives?”

On the flip side, there are deadbeats on the mom side of things too. Take my ex-wife for example. She started the divorce in a cooperative (no lawyer) mode but shifted her opinion and negotiations when she learned that she could get 70/30 and the custodial role without doing much of anything. I sometimes wish I would’ve fought at that moment she renigged on our agreement. I would’ve spent a lot of money and probably lost. I did what I felt was more supportive of my kids and even of my ex-wife. I rolled with the punches. A few years later, she filed our case with the AG’s office after I was a week late on my child support check.

That was the real dick move. She wanted to hurt me. She used the AG’s office, and their bias toward moms and child support, and put my life into collections for the next 10 years. Even when I was paid up, my credit report listed an AG’s Office account. Or the Deadbeat Dad Flag, as employers call it.

Here’s what I’d like to say to both mom and dad. A blow struck against your ex-partner is going to hurt your kids. You may not even like your ex anymore, but to your kids, they are “Mom” or “Dad.” Don’t take adverse actions towards your co-parent unless there is a real risk of injury or damage. My ex-wife was not worried about getting paid. My ex-wife was not complaining that I wasn’t responsible with the kids, or taking my fair share of the extracurricular duties. I asked her, just before she filed with the AG’s office, “Do you think I’m hiding money somewhere?” She did not.

What she did was reach into the dirtiest bag of tricks an ex-wife has. She hooked up the attorney general’s enforcement arm to go after and damage her ex-husband. Just for the thrill of hurting me. That’s a deadbeat mom.

The Comfort Ahead

Here’s the good news: my ex-wife has been a complete harpie, and my kids are okay. Yes, I didn’t get to balance out much of her controlling behaviors but I did provide a slight counterbalance of hope and optimism in their lives. That’s still what I’m known for. The positive one.

What I have for you is this:

  • Work to lessen the damage of divorce negotiations
  • Be kind in all circumstances
  • Reach agreements outside of the legal system (cheaper)
  • Create a working parenting schedule
  • Negotiate changes in the parenting plan
  • Help both partners remain empathetic to each other
  • Provide healthy examples for the kids of how to negotiate and cooperate with your ex


My kids are 23 and 21, and with an awful co-parent, they turned out fine. Your kids are going to be okay. It’s my job to help work together with one or both of the parents to create a positive outcome for everyone involved. The divorce may not be what you had in mind, but now that you’re headed in that direction, let’s lower the impact on your kids, and build healthy communication and negotiation strategies.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to talk to about divorce, without getting into it every time? I can provide you a sounding board for ideas, strategies, and hopes. I can help you get there. I can help you stay close to your kids. I can give you notes from my 13 years of divorce to an uncooperative co-parent.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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a good dad's guide to divorce

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