Should we stay together for the children?

By Mia Clarke, Associate Editor

Divorce isn’t the worst thing that parents can do to their kids, Toronto family lawyer Lisa Gelman tells

Staying in an unhealthy relationship and subjecting them to constant fighting and vitriol is much worse, says Gelman, principal of Gelman & Associates.

“Divorce removes toxicity from the home,” she says. “It’s a way of protecting the children from poor role models and negative examples that would otherwise continue if not for the divorce.”

Staying together for the sake of the children has become an “old-fashioned notion,” Gelman says, but she still occasionally gets asked whether it’s a good idea.

The answer, she says, is simple: "No, it’s not."

“A relationship in which a child grows up witnessing parental conflict, or seeing one parent degrading the other, is not one to hold onto,” says Gelman. “It is a situation to run away from.”

And the key is not to wait.

“Avoidance will generally make things worse,” she says. “Every day that someone delays addressing the underlying reasons of sadness is a day that could have been used to reach one’s goals and potential.”

But people often continue to suffer and agonize over the marriage, believing they are doing the right thing for the children, Gelman says.

“The couple thinks that things might get better. However, once it reaches a certain point, it rarely does,” she says. “They think they can hold on until the kids get older. But children are smarter than parents think. They know something is wrong.”

Gelman says putting up a brave front for the children can work for a while, but she doesn’t see the point in delaying the inevitable.

“There’s no good reason to put it off as it just prevents a person from moving on,” she says. “They will continue to harbour ill feelings towards their spouse and have a sense of hopelessness. And the children are affected because, even if you don't overtly show negative interactions, you generally don't show anything positive either because you're planning your exit.

“Children deserve to see positive relationship models — not just the absence of negative ones.”

Gelman says divorce has historically been viewed as a failure and with much guilt.

“I propose a different perspective — divorce provides a new opportunity to no longer be a passive observer in a relationship that has fallen apart,” she says. “Under the right circumstances, divorce permits an individual to let go of the shame and not just survive, but to live, evolve and flourish.”

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