Who gets custody of the friends?

Elizabeth Quinn is a writer, francophile and single mother of three young adults. She knows the value of support networks after almost losing her life in a car accident 10 years ago – on the day she planned to leave her marriage. Her website, diywoman.net, was created to provide a similar support network. There, she writes from practical experience about issues of interest to people over 50. Today, she explores the difficult choices that friends of a separating couple often need to make.

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Dividing the assets of a marriage is often complicated, but it’s especially hard when those assets are precious friendships. Who ‘gets custody’ of mutual friends and who walks away from those friendships can be one of the most heartbreaking tasks of separation and divorce.

I’ve written about the importance of maintaining friendships, regardless of your life circumstances. You’ll never be in greater need of friends than during the breakdown of a relationship.

When your marriage ends, you may feel cut adrift from certain friends. You may be unsure where their allegiances lie, or disappointed they haven’t contacted you since your separation. Shared friends, in particular, may feel conflicted about getting in touch.

A contributor to The Guardian’s ‘A Letter to …’ pulls no punches in her letter to ‘the friends my ex and I used to share’. This anonymous forum allows the letter writer to express her disappointment at being ‘dumped’ by her ex-partner’s friends. And while I empathise with the hurt she feels, I understand the Kissinger-like scale of diplomacy required by mutual friends of separating couples.

This is especially true of friendships made by one or other partner well before the relationship began. The last-in, first-out logic usually applies, but it doesn’t make it any easier when strong friendships have been formed with the friends of ex-partners.

Shortly after our separation was made public, I arranged to have coffee with my ex-husband’s best friend.

Ken* and I had struck up a friendship from the moment we met. We were virtual housemates in the early years of my relationship with his best mate, and genuinely liked each other’s company.

Ken and I had a frank discussion during which I told him that my husband needed his friendship more than I did. He told me I was one of his best friends. We both cried. I told him I planned to withdraw at least until the dust had settled and that I would be okay. I hoped he would be, too.

Looking back, I still believe it was the right thing to do.

Two months later, he rang to ask if I would be happy for him to act as support person for my ex-husband in our financial settlement mediation.

I was delighted. Having him on board got things moving in the right direction without malice. We are always delighted to see each other when our paths cross, and I’m hopeful that one day we will be able to resume where we left off – as old friends who have watched out for each other’s children, seen the pattern of friendship repeat itself between our children, and watched them grow up to become parents themselves.

* Not his real name.

Have you been left high and dry by ‘friends’ during a break-up? Or were you supported? Have you had to make a choice to be friends with one or other of a separating couple? How did you work it out?

Written by ElizabethQ

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