Parish divorce rates soar since Katrina

Local relationship therapist says new methods, such as collaborative divorce, help ease the strain on everyone involved, especially children

Many relationships couldn’t endure the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, and parish counselor and relationship therapist Kathleen McGraw says since the storm divorce has been steadily increasing parishwide.

“Couples that were near divorce prior to Katrina really couldn’t handle the pressures brought on by the storm,” McGraw said. “Eventually those relationships crumbled because the spouse might have lost his or her job or their home life and family structure, which might have been sound before the storm, was significantly disrupted.”

While divorce seems to be a likely solution for some couples, McGraw says that parents seem to be oblivious at times to how the decision impacts the children.
“It definitely impacts the children,” McGraw said. “Many parents are in denial but the children suffer when parents split up, especially when things aren’t done amicably.”
McGraw encourages couples who can’t seem to make things work to settle their family disputes through other, less conventional, methods.

“There are many options when couples have decided that they don’t want to stay married,” she said. “One of those is collaborative divorce, which seems to have the least negative impact on everyone involved.”
Attorneys in St. Charles Parish are turning to collaborative divorce to reduce the costs of traditional methods for families.

“This is also a lot easier on the children,” she said. “That’s because all of the support and the services the families need to cope with this difficult decision are combined so that everyone works as a team.”

McGraw says the teams consist of an attorney for both parties, divorce coaches representing each person, a family mediator, a child specialist and a financial advisor.
“The unique thing about this arrangement is that nobody is taking a side for one adult or the other,” she said. “Every one on the team works together for whatever is in the best interest of the children.”

McGraw says things are negotiated to the point of resolution and not conflict.
“This method of divorce is less expensive because everything is done out of court,” she said. “It’s a one time deal with all parties in agreement.”

McGraw says this avoids repeated visits to court for every single point the couple can’t agree upon.
“In traditional court proceedings when there’s a dispute over child custody or something else, the couple divorcing spends a great deal of time in the courtroom,” she said. “If things aren’t settled or if the judge recommends the parties seek mediation or child therapy, then that makes things more expensive.”

McGraw says one of the mistakes she’s seen parents make is to remain separated for a long time without either deciding to stay together or following through with a divorce.
“This prolongs things for the children,” she said. “And it doesn’t give anyone closure.”

McGraw says it gives children the false sense of security that some day the parents will get back together.
“Sometimes divorce is filled with conflict,” she said. “Attorneys can sometimes act like hired guns fighting to defeat each other and in an effort to win what each opposing couple wants in the end.”

McGraw says the children suffer in many ways. They often act out in school, get suspended numerous times, sneak out of their homes or get into fights.

“Some of the main reasons couples divorce are either a  lack of communication, one of the partners has an affair, financial difficulties, or where couples argue or bicker over money and parenting skills,” she said. “Each person comes into the marriage with their own set of family values based on the way they grew up, and sometimes they can’t deal with the change.


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