How to have a picture-perfect divorce

Sep 7, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. ET

A beaming couple celebrated their divorce outside a Calgary city court late last week. Shannon and Chris Neuman posted a #DivorceSelfie, alongside a powerful message about their separation that has since gone viral, garnering over 34,000 Facebook shares so far.

“We're smiling because we have done something extraordinary (we think anyway!) We have respectfully, thoughtfully and honourably ended our marriage in a way that will allow us to go forward as parenting partners for our children,” writes Shannon Neuman of their 11-year marriage.

More: This couple made their divorce official with a selfie

They hoped that by sharing this message, it might inspire other separating couples too. “Now that you know it's possible — please consider our way if you find yourself on this road, or share our message if we can help remind them that it's possible to love your kids more than you hate/distrust/dislike your ex,” she writes.

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With the divorce rate in Canada hovering at around 40 per cent, many couples may want to heed the advice of this Calgary ex-couple. But navigating separation can be tricky and confusing, especially with children. Dr. Samantha Rodman, author of How to Talk to Your Children about Your Divorce and SheKnows Expert, shares her knowledge and experience for couples in transition.

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Make a divorce-parenting plan

A thoughtful and amicable divorce is achievable by any couple in which both partners make it a priority. Especially with kids involved, it is essential to realize that divorce doesn't just affect the ex-partners. Many couples I've seen commit themselves to having a low-conflict, friendly divorce, where their children never feel scared, confused or caught in the middle of sparring parents. An amicable, or at least low-conflict, divorce buffers children against the negative effects of the split, and its importance can't be overstated.

To get to this place, couples may need to seek individual or even couples' counselling to work through any bitterness or resentment that lingers from the marriage and that may be preventing them from working together in a friendly or at least cordial way. They need to tell family and friends of their intention to divorce peaceably and not allow anyone to badmouth their ex-partner throughout or after the divorce process.

Particularly if exes are also co-parents, it is better to fake goodwill or at least neutrality than to openly express negative feelings toward each other. If children witness, overhear or sense animosity between their parents, this can have devastating consequences on their emotional security and psychological health.

Even if no kids are involved, there is no upside to expressing your rage or resentment to your ex or soon-to-be-ex spouse. You need to grieve the marriage and move on, and arguing about old issues with an ex does not allow for forward movement. Instead, you can express yourself openly to a counsellor or to supportive friends or family.

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And if it isn’t a picture-perfect divorce?

If your amicable uncoupling turns contentious, don't beat yourself up about it. Instead, recommit to working through your feelings with a supportive external person, and recommit to being your best self during the divorce, even if you feel as though your ex is acting terribly. You will never regret attempts to be kind, even while being assertive and protective of your own interests and boundaries.

According to Neuman, the payoff for putting in the effort to separate amicably can be pretty powerful, particularly for the child(ren). “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. 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,” she writes.

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