As family law practitioners, we place a heavy onus on our clients maintaining a high level of respect towards their former partners. A respectful and cooperative relationship between ex-partners is encouraged but not always capable of being achieved.
One couple in Calgary, Canada has taken a happy relationship after separation to new heights. Enter Shannon and Chris Neuman, parents of two children who ended eleven years of marriage and a prolonged period of litigation with a picture of them each, smiles aplenty, outside the Calgary Court Centre.
The “divorce selfie” has gone viral and at last count, Facebook attributed over 27,000 shares to the couple’s efforts.
According to the caption attributable to the divorce selfie, the pair were pleased to be able to do something “extraordinary” and ended their marriage, “respectfully, thoughtfully and honourably” in a way that will allow them to “go forward as parenting partners for their children”.
Perhaps a more practically apt comment was also included, when they said “[the children] will never have to wonder which side of the auditorium to run after their Christmas concert or spring play because they’ll be sitting together”. The couple generally spoke of their struggles but also of their success in coming up with a parenting plan after divorce that was “keeping the wellbeing of [their] kids at the forefront of every decision”.
Ms Neuman says that the reaction to the photo has been “mixed”, with a number of individuals showing support for their efforts but it was also conceded the photo had attracted criticism on the basis that divorce is never something that should be celebrated.
No doubt, the divorce selfie and the merits or appropriateness of same will be the topic of many household debates until the next unique internet photo goes viral, but it appears at the very least there is food for thought about how far society has come in accepting divorce as being a part of life and whether it is appropriate to celebrate the end of a marriage, regardless of how highly esteemed the parties are in relation to each other after the event.
Ms Neuman, for her part, denies that she was celebrating when she took the photo, rather commemorating the completion of the goal that they worked really hard to achieve after some four years of being unable to reach agreement. She states that the end of the marriage was sad but the positive outcome afterwards was to be celebrated.
From my perspective, the above is great publicity for the benefit of a positive post-separation parenting relationship, and the adoption of a dedicated child-focus in decision making. I am yet to read one study which suggests parental conflict in the post separation period is positive for children and whilst a breakdown of a marriage is something that may be difficult to justify in terms of celebrating, the desire and willingness to reach a resolution where children aren’t subjected to conflict or the undercurrents of conflict, is something to be applauded.
Whether or not there are any more divorce selfies, let us hope there are plenty more situations where parties put their own emotions and feelings aside in order to reach amicable child-focussed arrangements for the long term.