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Family, Mediation

Viral #divorceselfie photo a sign of positive change

The emerging trend of separating couples celebrating their split by posting a #divorceselfie can be viewed as positive, as long as it is remembered that one photo does not tell a family’s entire story, says Oakville family lawyer and mediator Cathryn Paul.

Calgary couple Shannon and Chris Neuman made headlines earlier this month after posting a photo together — all smiles — after filing for divorce.

Shannon Neuman shared the selfie on her Facebook page with the hashtag #divorceselfie, and the image has been shared thousands of times.

In the caption, she explains their smiling faces after having "done something extraordinary,” noting they wanted the split to be conflict-free so their children would never have to choose sides.

“They'll never have to wonder which side of the auditorium to run to after their Christmas concert or spring play, because we'll be sitting together,” says the caption. “They won't have to struggle with their own wedding planning because we'll be sitting on the same side of the aisle — THEIR side.”

The couple was applauded as being inspiring as the photo went viral online.

Paul, a family law mediator and arbitrator who focuses on out-of-court dispute resolutions, says the concept of celebrating divorce is encouraging.

“The idea of two people celebrating that they have been able to get through their separation respectfully is positive. If we take that message away from the story, that is a good thing,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. “People should really be congratulated for going through the process in a respectful manner that will allow them to be successful co-parents in the future.”

High-conflict divorces involving lengthy, expensive court battles often make the news, says Paul, noting it’s refreshing to see the other side represented as well.

“Low-key stories of former spouses actually getting along don’t often make the news, and I think those cases are more prevalent than people realize,” she says. “People should be given a lot of credit for it. It means they accepted issues that were not easy for them, rose above conflict and made compromises.

“It takes a lot of maturity to get to that point, a lot of swallowed words and a lot of looking at the big picture, and that is really to be commended,” says Paul. “It’s a goal for many separating couples but not all of them get there.”

Amicable separations lead to healthier lives for both the parents and the children, says Paul.

“It is going to make them better parents, and better able to meet their children’s needs. It also means they can talk to each other when issues come up with the kids, which they always will. It is as simple as picking up the phone to ask the former spouse if the child can go on a sleepover on a weekend the child is visiting them,” she says.

“The child is going to go through life knowing they have two parents to support them, that will be a safety net for them just as they would have been if the parents had not separated.”

And while the idea of a #divorceselfie is a welcome one, it’s also OK if parents can’t take that type of step immediately, says Paul.

“People experience separation in different ways, and the fact that they may not be at the same place at the same time doesn’t mean they won’t be able to work together,” she says.

One photo doesn’t tell the entire story, says Paul, and it doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps in the road ahead.

“Selfies are very two dimensional,” she says. “They tell the story of one very specific point in time. There is a huge amount of depth to a co-parent relationship and a selfie doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s the ongoing day-to-day work it takes to be successful co-parents that is important and that is the goal.”

Paul also notes that sharing divorce details online should be done with caution — especially on social media.

“I think if both parties agree to do it that’s one thing, but you have to be careful about not crossing the line in terms of one person sharing a lot about the separation which the other person does not agree with and causing a big rift that eventually gets back to the kids,” says Paul.

“When it comes to narrating what happened during the relationship breakdown, the two narratives are going to be very different. It is not as if one is right and the other is wrong. Many times parents will share such information online without realizing the impact it could have on the kids if they learn about it later on,” she says.

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