Where Do We Fit In?

Sometimes it helps to see where you and the other parent fit along an imagined continuum of low- to high-conflict families. Though no pair of divorcing parents can ever really be “categorized,” it is often interesting to consider where you might fit in, and what other models for handling these issues and relationships exist.

Dr. Constance Ahrons’ list of different family types, discussed in her book The Good Divorce (Harper Collins, 1994), still does a good job of capturing different types of relationships between divorced parents. In her book, Dr. Ahrons notes that there are lots of divorced pairs that fall into each category, though most divorcing couples cluster near the middle of the list, and these relationships usually shift over time.

“Perfect Pals”: These parents are able to remain good friends and communicate regularly with very little conflict. These parents may live next door to, or down the block from, each other.

These parents are also more likely to consider “bird nesting” (having the children stay in the family home while the parents switch off living there). When attending the school play or soccer match, they are more likely than not to sit together. These parents are often able to share birthday parties and holiday celebrations, and may keep friendly relationships with their “ex” in-laws.

“Cooperative Colleagues”: These parents are generally friendly toward each other, can clearly separate the adult relationship issues from the parenting issues, and are more likely than “perfect pals” to have new partners. Although these parents’ homes may still be in the same general area, they are less likely to cross paths on a regular basis. They can communicate easily. When conflicts do come up, these parents are usually able to manage their differences effectively.

“Angry Associates”: These parents are frequently angry with each other and have a difficult time separating the adult relationship issues from the parenting issues. Though they can often benefit from working with a mediator, counselor, or attorney to resolve their disputes, they seldom do. These parents frequently involve their children in their conflict, and the children often dread what will happen each time their parents are in the same place at the same time.

“Fiery Foes”: These parents seldom have much to do with each other—but when they do, it often turns into a battle. These parents go to court regularly. The issues that end up in court often start as a small matter, such as what time the weekend visit should start or finish. Judges frequently turn to outside professionals (such as a custody evaluator, attorney for the child, counselor, special master, or visitation supervisor) for help in deciding how best to resolve the issue and what court orders might be most effective, and to watch that the court orders are followed. In these situations, children sometimes say they are afraid to be with one of their parents, or they may refuse to visit one parent.

“Dissolved Duos”: This situation is different from the other four, because it commonly involves one parent who has nearly, or totally, stopped contact with the ex and his or her child. Parents in this group may consider kidnapping or hiding a child after losing custody because they fear that they have no other option for gaining time with their children.