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Getting priorities straight (Real Estate Div)

New York Times's real estate coverage is one of my favorite reads with no end of insights into the human condition when it comes to living together. Real estate agents often have a keen insight into how our homes bring us together or not. Here is an account of agents who specialize in couples facing a divorce. It ends thus:"Ms. Katzen of Douglas Elliman has a pair of divorcing clients right now who are buying two apartments on different sides of the same building, she said, because they hope it will make the separation easier on their child.Its quite selfless, really, Ms. Katzen said. Some people would say, Forget you! If Im going out on a date, I do not want to run into you in the lobby. Talk about putting the child first.Talk about it!!

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Margaret, no, the kid did not cause the divorce. They moved back together within two months of his going to college.. college costs and loneliness ?? Wallerstein had as her hypothesis divorce was less harm for children but found that the older the child the poorer the outcome for them. as I recall.. a 25 year study of middle and upper middle class Bay Area couples... most of whom thought divorce was no foul no harm. Separation is hard but better than divorce... also dentists have found that root canals are better than we elderly who experienced both .....are thankful for..Viva Francis..

Not very many "managed divorces" are well-managed at all. I have handled so many annulment cases and seen such continued resentment and anger, that I wonder if there is any cure at all. If the couple can't really stand the sight of each other because the emotional wounds go so deep, I don't see this separate but equal apartment solution working. It's like having the ghost of relationship past always haunting both parties. And the opportunity for the child to play both ends against the middle are just daunting with the parents in such close proximity. We do need to realize that after divorce, the family unit, the previous love relationship, and even sensible actions are rendered assunder. The recovery will not be easy because so much has been invested and then lost. Retaining the affection of the child whose divided loyalties will be hard to deal with is equally problematic. Both parties need to be in supervised therapy and my guess is that even that will become as much a part of the problem as a solution. Time will finally pass, the child will mature and grow up, and whatever hurts and injuries that persist may finally be assuaged. But we may never know...

It is difficult for anyone to judge who is not in the situation but I would not necessarily leap to the conclusion that they are putting the child first. It may be a way to prolong the inevitable and create unrealistic expectations for the child. If the couple has discerned that it would be best for all parties concerned that the marriage be dissolved (of course it is NEVER that simple or saguine in reality), then they need to communicate this fact to the child in no uncertain terms and help him or her adapt to a changing family dynamic. Living in the same building may send confused and mixed signals to the child. On the one hand, maybe this will help the child adjust, on the other it may sow further unrealistic hopes and expectations.

What struck me was the real estate agent concluding that the divorcing parents were "putting the child first." Weren't they putting the child second or third, after what they actually put first, themselves.

The first-put child may not appreciate running into Mommy and Daddy with their new dates in the lobbies either. That lobby could become a war zone; can you show me an apartment somewhere else, Ms. Katzen?

Don't know much about the commissions, but I think the agent is first....Besides whatever attachment they have to that location, we obviously cannot judge whatever reason they have for living there or for divorce or whether or not they "put the child first." On the surface, it seems like a better solution that traipsing around for joint custody,etc Sure, it sounds potentially tricky, but what divorce with children isn't...?Good luck to them... and may their real concern for their child really help them in this separation to do whatever they feel they must....

Margaret, As the adult "child" of a couple who divorced long after they should have if the childrens' welfare had been put "first", at least be open to the idea that this couple has put the child first in divorcing. It's no fun growing up in a war zone. If this couple can manage to keep the war zone out of the lobby (and given their first decision, it's very likely that they will), this arrangement may well be the best thing for the child. No matter where they live, if the newly single parents eventually begin to date and then remarry (as most do), the children will still have to adjust, still have to learn to be comfortable with the idea. I have known divorced couples who were successful in negotiating a divorce that was best for all - including for the children - and a central feature was physical proximity of the two parents' homes - if not in the same apt. building in a city, in the same general neighborhood, often walking or bicycling distance apart. It can work and if it does, it may be far better for the child than staying together for "the sake of the child." That can actually turn out to the most "selfish" course.

Agree with David and Anne.I think it's a lovely solution. The child can move back and forth between both apts. without planning, packing, etc. The article about Bobby Cannevale in the NYT Magazine Sunday was very good, imho. Bobby is divorced from his son's mother. He said various people have wanted to move into his apt. with him, but it's not going to happen, because he wants his son to feel comfortable coming out of the bathroom in his underwear without worrying about who's in the apt.If the couple cares enough about their child to get two apts. in the same bldg, why worry about the lobby? Meet the dates somewhere else.I liked the episode on Selling New York where a couple (not divorced) with two (?) children wanted to buy one apt. for themselves and a second one on the same floor for the man's mother. She is a willing and frequent baby sitter for their children, but requires her own place, since her housekeeping standards are stricter than theirs. They found the perfect places with the help of the agent. (I forget what they paid. Maybe 8 million for the big one and another 2 or 3 for the old lady's.)

Thanks to David, Anne, and Gerelyn for their comments, that are gentler than the one I didn't post.When I got divorced my children had three concrete requests:- that their parents live as close to one another as possible, and in the same town in any case, so that they could see both parents often and could keep the same group of neighborhood friends regardless of whose place they were staying at;- that after the one move subsequent to divorce, their parents never move again until they themselves leave for college; and- to have a dog.

Anne Chapman: "As the adult child of a couple who divorced long after they should have if the childrens welfare had been put first, at least be open to the idea that this couple has put the child first in divorcing."Right. I am open; my mind is like a sieve. That's why I remain interested in studies that look at the long-term. For example, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study [Paperback]Judith S. Wallerstein (Author), Julia M. Lewis (Author), Sandra Blakeslee (Author). The same long-term goes for the outcomes for children of single mothers, which was a fairly popular idea back in the seventies, but as recent accounts suggest that is turning out to be hard on some children, especially boys.

In my family a couple separated into different apartments for two years in the same small apartment building until their boy finished HS. Now that he is in college the couple re-united and have nice hikes together at Point Reyes sea shore. Margaret... not all apartment houses have lobbies and door man like NYC. . I too recommend Judith Wallerstein's Children of Divorce. She was quizzed on TV and questioned as if she was a right wing fundamentalist until she countered 'Stop already.. I'm a liberal Jew from Marin county '

So Ed, are you saying their kid drove them a separation and now that he's gone, they can live together again? Most NYC apartments don't have doormen, but almost all of them have lobbies, in fact, they probably all have lobbies...As I recall, Wallerstein has seemed a bit surprised at her findings; I suppose because she thought children would be better off.

Margaret, nobody disputes that in an ideal world, parents will stay married at least until their kids grow up. But, we don't live in an ideal world. And there are cases - perhaps not the majority but enough - when divorce is best for the kids as well as for the parents. To automatically assume that the parents are "putting themselves first" is unjustified because there is too little information about this particular family to really know.

I haven't read Wallerstein, but some good friends who teach university level on these issues mention some critical analysis of her methodology. Nevertheless, even if her conclusions are the rather obvious that divorce is MOST OFTEN hurtful for children, arguing that point to any given couple wins little favor in marriage therapy."Doing the best for the child..." such apowerful phrase that is so ambiguous... but those who've commented and lived in a situation of divorce I give great credence to more than my own hisory which does not include intimate first hand experience on a personal level.

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