Sharing Friends after Divorce

While divorce often poses unique issues to each couple navigating the complicated, emotionally wrought path, there are often overlapping issues that are widely experienced by those facing the end of a marriage.  Splitting assets, property and material goods can be difficult, tedious and time-consuming. Navigating custody decisions, parental responsibilities and family life can be heartbreaking. But one aspect of a split that is not often discussed in court is how a couple will split mutual friends. Shared friendships are messy during any split or break-up, regardless how amicably it is resolved.

Yet, in contemporary marriages, friends are often shared.  Often times married couples begin as friends, and therefore their mutual friends are exactly that – truly and unequivocally mutual. In these situations, how does one prepare themselves and their friends for the uncharted territory that is to come?  Friends often feel the need to choose, or try to maintain friendships with both only to have the choice ultimately made for them.  After all, social gatherings attended by both parties can be uncomfortable for all involved, not limited to the couple alone.

When planning social events, even friends who are attempting to remain impartial, must choose which one to invite.  A female-only wine night may make an easy decision, but what about birthdays or holiday get-togethers?  Feelings are easily (and unintentionally) hurt and everyone must come to terms with the new situation.

A recent Huffington Post article offers tips for those navigating these uncharted waters. Accept that some friendships will be lost. Try not to be hurt that your ex-spouse’s best friends may not want to maintain a relationship with you. After all, you would most likely expect your nearest and dearest not to stay close with your ex. Most importantly, if all else fails, talk about it and be vocal about what you want. Make lists of friendships that you would like to share, and come up with a set of ground rules for navigating those shared friends.  Be honest and blunt about how you feel. If you are both invited to social events, is it ever okay to bring a new partner?  And similarly, talk extensively with your friends about the same guidelines so that they know how to approach the situation, and whether or not they should invite both of you to parties and outings.

The article uses a particularly exceptional example of a couple who made lemonade from their impending divorce.  Charles Bronfman, former chairman of Seagram, and his wife filed for divorce in 2011.  Instead of arguing over how they would split their shared friendships, they did something quite unique – they had a divorce party.  According to the New York Times, they invited 100 of their friends to a cocktail party, emphasizing that despite their split, they did not want their friendships to be impacted.

While this is not the norm, it offers an interesting new development in a culture where shared friends are more and more common.  If you are true to yourself and respectful of your friendships, there is no right or wrong way to handle this difficult journey.  Some may be comfortable maintaining shared friendships and some may find it too painful to put themselves in difficult social situations.  Either way, be honest with yourself, your ex and your friends about your comfort level.  Divorce is a difficult process, but having friends by your side, whether shared or individual, can make a difference.