‘I’m probably the luckiest divorced man on the planet’
BY most measures, Suzanne Vickberg, 45, and Tim Reynolds, 44, have the perfect family life: dinners together with their two kids, ages 10 and 12; family trips to Disney World; an annual Christmas party in their suburban home in New Jersey.
They just happen to be divorced.
Even more confusing to some, Ms Vickberg lives in an apartment attached to the house she and Reynolds bought years earlier and which Mr Reynolds still lives in - with his new partner, Ana De Archuleta.
The three split parenting duties: Ms Vickberg's on bedtime duty, Ms De Archuleta wakes the kids up and Mr Reynolds walks them to and from school. Ms Vickberg also alternates dinner nights with Ms De Archuleta and Mr Reynolds, and they switch off on weekends, too.
A growing number of ex-couples are seeking unconventional solutions to ending their marriages, saying they want their divorce to reflect not animosity but the love they once shared and still have for their children. Some live together, holiday together and text every day.
Such immersive team parenting is due in part to the ugliness of previous generations' divorces, says Liza Caldwell, co-founder of Support and Solutions for Women, a divorce-coaching group based in New York.
"[This generation] has lived it, learned it or heard first-hand how disastrous divorce can be if the parents do not strive to co-parent civilly," Ms Caldwell says. "People can do it the way they want to, not the way their parents did it."
Which is why, after their divorce in 2010, Ms Vickberg and Mr Reynolds spent about $200,000 to build an additional living space, complete with a bedroom suite that opens up into the main house, as well as a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room and, of course, private front door.
"There are a lot of people out there who get divorced who don't hate each other," says Ms Vickberg, a psychologist and researcher who is planning to write a book about such family arrangements. "I think a lot of people probably could get a bit more creative, even in small ways."
Tore Kesicki, 56, a co-founder of health-and-wellness web site MindBodyNetwork, says that after he and his first wife separated amicably over issues of intimacy, their bond "changed from a married relationship to more of a sister-brother relationship."
After they split 17 years ago, they even continued to live together for four years to make it easier on their kids. It was only when Mr Kesicki started dating that it was clear he needed to move out. Still, they continue to celebrate holidays together with their kids, now 22 and 29, exchange birthday gifts and get together for Christmas.
"We're better friends now than we were when we married," he says.
Lisa, a 51-year-old writer and podcast producer in northern New Jersey, who declined to give her last name for professional reasons, says her ex-husband still comes to the house every morning to help get their 13-year-old daughter ready for school.
They separated three years ago but have gone on group vacations with their daughter and other families. They even hug from time to time, she says, adding that their daughter knows "the boyfriend-girlfriend part is over."
Others rely on technology to stay in touch. Stephanie, a 42-year-old PR agent who lives in Battery Park and withheld her last name for privacy reasons, says that to keep her ex in the loop with their children, ages 2 and 5, she not only lives near him but texts him every day. Their kids also video chat every night with the parent they're not with.
"It's so normal for us," says Stephanie. "I can sit on my couch and cry for a year about our divorce, but I have two young children who depend on me. That means collaborating with their dad and getting along with him."
But there can be minefields in such arrangements. Mr Kesicki says his continued close relationship with his first wife was a big reason why his second marriage failed. Vickberg, too, says men she dates sometimes have a hard time accepting her relationship with her ex. She hasn't had a serious partner because most men "can't figure out how they would fit into the picture".
Mr Reynolds even went out with one of her boyfriends to help him better understand what their living situation was all about. But that relationship, too, didn't work out.
And Lisa says that even after three years of separation, constantly seeing her ex and being reminded of the death of their relationship was a bit like "presiding over your own funeral".
Still, she adds, when the goal is to help your children navigate a divorce, "you don't have the luxury of being an a - hole".
Feelings like these are common and even healthy for the recently divorced, who are making a choice to put their kids' wellbeing before their own, says psychologist Jeffrey Zimmerman, co-author of The Co-Parenting Survival Guide, who is based in Midtown.
"To take the best care of themselves and their own mental health, the parents need to fully grieve the loss of the marriage and do their own work to heal and recover," says Mr Zimmerman. "But if the parents can keep their marital issues and dynamics, and the resulting conflict, out of the mix, they can have the experience of sharing many wonderful moments of their children, rather than missing many."
The bottom line? Such close-knit parenting can depend on whether ex-couples still "like each other as human beings enough to do things together," says divorce mediator Joanne Naiman, who notes that this approach isn't advisable for those in abusive relationships. "It just takes conversations. It's a process."
"If any one of us wasn't on the same page, it wouldn't work," Mr Reynolds says. "But we all fit together quite well. And we're good friends, too. I'm frankly probably the luckiest divorced man on the planet."