I read recently yet another statistic about divorce in Australia: there were 56,244 divorces granted in 2021 – which works out to 2.2 divorces per 1,000 people (1).
And in every case, I imagine, each couple had to decide how they were going to get divorced.
Which is a terribly difficult decision. How do you choose which way is best for you to wind up your relationship?
Well, one way is to think of it like rafting down a river.
You’ve decided that your relationship is over. This life you’ve been building together is no more, so it’s time to decide what comes next.
In doing so, it might help to imagine a broad, brown river gently flowing over smooth rocks and through dense shade.
This river is the path you and your ex are going to take as you work through your divorce.
In fact, you and 56,243 other couples are about to float down this river, all trying to navigate the forks, rapids, shallows, falls and snags along the way.
Part One – Working Out What to Do Now
Imagine you and your ex pulling up in the car park – in separate cars – and parking amongst the dusty cars .
You each hop out, look at each other and scan around for something telling you what to do. After a long time searching, you find a small carved into a fence post, pointing to a small, overgrown path down the hill.
You look at each other and shrug, neither wanting to say what to do. Partly to avoid another argument, partly because you just don’t really know what to do.
Off you head, pushing through the weeds and picking your way through the stony path. The path slowly opens up and rounds the curve of the bluffs. The sun’s, burning your ears and making you both feel very exposed as you pick your way down the path.
You feel like everybody’s looking at you, even though as you glance around you can’t see anybody.
You get to the bottom, with a dusty face and sweaty brow. And you’re confronted with more decisions.
Part Two – Pick Your Raft
You’ve already decided that you’re heading down this river.
Now you need to decide which raft you’re going to take.
Your options are::
The plastic, two-seater kayak
Good for people looking to speed along the river, working together to get through it as quickly and safely as possible..
Bad for people who can’t stand the sight of each other or who can’t be expected to paddle their own side the whole time.
Not the cheapest option, but hardly the most expensive.
2. The spacious 12-seat inflatable
Plenty of room for a big support team, and space to sit far apart, this option is good for people looking for help rowing the river. The extra size gives the illusion of safety, but don’t be fooled – this thing will flip you out as soon as you all decide against cooperation.
Surprisingly good value given the enhanced odds of a much smoother and successful journey.
3. The one cobbled together from three barrels and a pile of driftwood
This option isn’t good for anybody, but still attracts its fair share of people either in a rush or filled with a foolhardy amount of over-confidence.
May make it the whole way, but in the unlikely event it does you won’t still be aboard.
Eye-wateringly expensive. Not just to buy it, but the running repairs and battering by the waves will drain your wallet.
4. A boogie board.
For those who can do it all themselves, who’ll steer themselves and don’t mind having to kick against the current to get where they need to.
Best for those who don’t care how exhausted they’ll be by the end.
Not the most expensive option, in terms of dollars. In terms of risks and effort, a price few would knowingly pay.
As you and your ex stand on the sandy bank, assessing the different options, you both pause. Again, neither wants to go first. Each option appeals to you for different reasons.
An uncomfortable silence descends , as you stand there with one hand shielding your eyes and the other brushing away flies.
Until, eventually, they quietly point to the kayak and say “we could probably make that work?”.
You agree , so you stride off to pay the gatekeeper, collect your paddles and pick up your new kayak.
Part Three – On the Water
Neither of you have ever done this before, so it takes some shuffling and near-misses to get into the kayak, but finally you’re both nestled in the plastic shell. Life jackets on, helmets cinched, you ask the gatekeeper to launch you into the water.
And you’re off.
At first, the water’s shallow and clear enough that you can see the smooth stones on the bottom. The sun’s out, with a light headwind blowing the occasional droplet into your face as you start paddling.
In silence, naturally, because neither of you has anything left to say.
You can’t quite get into sync, so you knock paddles occasionally. You both paddle on the left hand side at the same time, too, which drags you off course and towards the tree-lined bank. With a grunt, you both over-correct and do the same thing on the right hand side.
But, eventually, you find a rhythm that is at least pushing you in the right direction.
You wish you’d asked the gatekeeper for a map of the river, but what you don’t know is that there is no map.
At least, none that they would give you anyway.
On you go, floating downriver as you work out how to get through this divorce.
Part Four – The First Fork
As you round a bend, you see a fork ahead of you.
You need to decide which way you want to go:
Left is the amicable option.
Fewer rapids and the ones that are there are very low level. The river stays broad and shallow most of the way, and there’s plenty of shade. Not as windy either, so the journey is much shorter.
However, getting the kayak across to the left of the river will require the two of you to discuss your options and agree you want to do that, before hefting your paddles into the water and dragging your kayak across open water.
You have to get around three big rocks in the middle as well, without bouncing off them.
2. Right is the acrimonious branch.
The river is naturally flowing this way, so you won’t need to talk about this as an option – doing nothing will mean you just float along into the acrimonious path.
This path is much more thrilling, filled with high grade rapids, sharp drops and no shade. It winds around as well, so it takes much longer to travel the whole way.
There is, however, the chance that your ex will fall out of the kayak along the way which, if you’re so inclined, might be an appealing possibility.
(Of course, it’s worth remembering the risk of you doing the same is exactly the same).
After a quick conversation, rooted in the memories of the good times in your past and diminished, but still present, respect for each other, you agree to try the hard labour of tacking to the left.
Besides, the sooner you get through this journey, the sooner you can return to your life – and the kids.
You can’t help but notice, though, the sheer volume of other rafts mindlessly floating along into the frightening rapids of the right fork…
This is the first of two parts of this story – part two will come be out next Tuesday!