April 30, 2016/by Shari Bornstein
Recently, I came across information about a campaign launched by Sweden to increase tourism. Rather than spend millions of dollars on splashy marketing and advertising, the country is using its citizens as ambassadors to generate curiosity about the country. The Swedish Tourist Association set up a phone number that connects callers to random Swedes who download an app to accept these calls. I’m sure they’ve received their fair share of questions about the taste of Ikea’s meatballs compared to “real” Swedish meatballs and is there really a “midnight” sun. And since I’m not a big fan of Viking history, I wanted to use the opportunity to speak with a random Swede about divorce and separation.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only curious person because a recording advised me that the call volume was heavy. I hoped that my research project wouldn’t cost a fortune and I was sure that my inquiry would be a topic of conversation if the random Swedes exchanged stories about the craziest questions they were asked.
When my call was finally connected, I introduced myself to Richard who spoke great English. I told him that I lived in New York and worked for a non-profit organization that offered supportive services and education to divorcing and separating parents. I asked him if he could answer some questions about the Swedish process of divorce and separation. He said that my question was interesting (translate: he probably just wanted to answer true tourist type questions) but he is a truck driver in a copper mine.
He did share that he was divorced about twenty years ago. Bingo! He and his ex-wife were the parents of three small boys. He married a woman with two small boys shortly after his divorce so they became a blended family of five boys.
I asked if he and his wife reached an agreement about their parenting time. He said that they did with help from their lawyers, an agreement that he described as “good.” The litigator in me had to ask the next question, “What made the agreement “good” for him and his ex-wife?” She moved away and the boys lived with him during the week. He was grateful to raise his boys when they were young. She had parenting time with the boys on the weekends. The arrangements suited them both. His youngest is now twenty-three years old and all of the boys have their own apartments and live their lives. They have girlfriends and have developed very well. He is proud of his sons.
Richard’s divorce occurred two decades ago and took place in a different country. Yet, similarities are ever present today, right here. Whatever the cause of the breakdown of the marital relationship, Richard and his ex-wife maintained respect for the roles each of them played when it came to their sons. He told me “the boys are hers, too. I wasn’t going to take them from her. She is their mother.” He felt this was why they were functioning so well as adults.
I probably could have asked Richard a lot more questions, but he said he had to go back to work. I’m not likely to visit Stockholm any time soon, but how fortuitous to be connected with someone who acknowledged the importance of his ex-wife in their children’s lives. Good co-parenting is timeless and without borders. For those who struggle, I wish there was an app for that.
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Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator.