When John Jarvis visits his 13-year-old daughter, he stays in the guest room of his ex-wife's house.
Bob Murphy of Chandler, Ariz., offered his ex-wife a key to his house when they divorced earlier this year after 26 years of marriage.
Some of today's divorcing couples, who may have witnessed some wretched family separations, are vowing to do it differently. Even if their own parents didn't divorce, many kids saw how hard it was on their friends.
So more couples are opting for a friendly divorce, whether through mediation, collaboration or even do-it-yourself kits. And the majority of couples choosing friendly divorces are those with children.
However they do it, they want the process to be more amicable. In the end, they save time, money and increase the odds that they might actually still be friends. And the kids are the biggest beneficiaries.
This new kind of divorced mom and dad might attend parent-teacher conferences together, work jointly to get one kid to Little League and the other to piano lessons — even if it's not technically their visitation day — and share calendars electronically so Dad can arrange to take the kids when mom's out of town on business.
"It just seems much more humane and friendly," says Jarvis, 54, who admits that his staying at his ex-wife's Chandler house when he visits his daughter, Hannah, does raise some eyebrows. Many divorced couples can't stand to be in the same room together, let alone spend days together and face each other every morning over coffee.
Jarvis lives in Massachusetts, and staying with his former wife not only means he gets more time with Hannah, but it saves money on hotels and rental cars, so he can afford to come more often.
Traditional vs. friendly
Most divorce cases still are handled in the traditional way, with lawyers on each side trying to get the best deal for their client, often through nasty disagreements over custody, child support, property settlements and finances. Divorcing couples typically aren't feeling friendly toward each other anyway, and contentious experiences in court can make those feelings even worse.
"It makes it almost impossible to have a civil relationship going forward. You don't forget what it's like to be cross-examined by your spouse's lawyer," says family law attorney John Zarzynski, who co-founded Agreement House. "It sets them up for years and years of not being able to communicate well."
Mediation is one kind of a friendly divorce. Collaboration is another, in which both parties retain their own attorneys but also use experts and work together for a solution for everyone. Couples don't set foot in court in either instance. Proponents say it reduces the emotional costs on everyone; both children and adults start their new lives on relatively stable ground.
No one keeps statistics on the number of mediated and collaborative divorces. But Zarzynski, during 31 years of practice, has seen the trend firsthand. When he started, mediated cases were rare. Ten years ago, he mediated about a dozen a year; last year, that number was 75.
A typical traditional divorce can stretch out for months — even years — and cost both parties $15,000 to $25,000.
Zarzynski says a mediated divorce, on average, costs $1,000 and takes 70 days, including the state's mandatory cooling-off period of 60 days.
A collaborative divorce involves more people — it may add a financial adviser, psychologist or divorce coach to the mix — so it costs a bit more than a mediated divorce. A 2004 study in Texas shows that instead of a typical 18-month, $14,000 process through litigation, a collaborative divorce took an average of 18 weeks and $9,000 to complete.