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How to Manage In-Laws Post Divorce

By Amanda Singer

When I got married, I found that one of the strangest transitions wasn’t to being newlyweds or calling him my husband but was more related to my new in-laws. I think that often in-laws, especially mothers-in-law, have gotten a bad rap in popular culture. While I have certainly known some friends who have had a tough time managing their mother-in-law’s new expectations and involvement in their life, I never felt that way.  If you’ve been married for a long time and you’re going through a divorce, managing in-laws post-divorce can be a whole other situation to contend with.

Think about what you share.

One of the first things to think about as you’re going through the divorce is how involved you want your in-laws and even your own parents to be in the divorce and know what’s going on. This is a good conversation to have with your spouse, so you guys can be on the same page and decide what everyone else needs or doesn’t need to know as you navigate the divorce process and your lives post-divorce.  Now both of you may feel strongly about wanting to talk with your parents and siblings about your marriage and your divorce, and that is certainly your choice to do so. However, you may want to think about what you are telling them, especially if you and your ex-spouse have children together, as what you share may color their view of your ex-spouse. If your ex does share things with your in-laws that you wouldn’t have wanted them to know, that is their choice, and remember that.

You, however, can also tell your in-laws that you’re not open to discussing these things with them and that you hope they will respect your privacy and your children by not saying anything to the children, no matter how old they are.  Often in mediation, we will discuss at the beginning of the process for the couple to decide who they will and won’t talk with and what they agree to share.  This is important because going through a divorce is very private, and not everyone wants to share everything about this personal time with anyone outside of their spouse.

Decide what kind of relationship you want.

If you and your ex-spouse don’t have children together and you were never very close with their family, then you may decide post-divorce that you no longer want to keep in touch with your in-laws, and that’s ok. However, if you guys had been together for a long time or you had established a close relationship with any of your in-laws, then you may decide that you do want to continue your relationship with them and to see if they are open to doing the same. It’s up to you to decide what kind of relationship you want and what that will look like and communicate that with your in-laws.

If you have children with your ex-spouse, then managing your relationship with your in-laws may not be entirely your choice, especially if you have the children more time than your ex does, and they want to see the children.  It’s important to think about what you want that relationship to look like. Do you want to be the one coordinating visits with the grandparents even if they’re not your parents, or do you want your ex to be the one to make sure the children see their grandparents?  Are you going to invite them to family events and participate in holidays, school performances, etc.?  Just because you took on a specific role while you were married doesn’t mean you have to do the same post-divorce. That being said, you have to decide what you want that to look like, and you have to communicate that role to everyone involved, including your spouse. If you don’t communicate, your ex-spouse may think that you will include his parents in everything related to the children, and your in-laws may get very upset when they find they haven’t been invited to things.

Be clear with your boundaries.

That brings us to the next part, being clear with your boundaries.  Once you’ve communicated with your ex and your in-laws about what kind of relationship you want to have, just like in most areas of your life, it’s important to be clear with your boundaries and stick to them, for example, maybe you decide that you want to continue being friends with your sister-in law after the divorce. Still, you decide and communicate to her, and you will not talk about her brother with her or anything that went on in the divorce. Establishing your own relationship with her separate from your ex-spouse means being clear about your boundaries and sticking to them. Concerning your children, maybe part of your boundary is that you are happy to have your in-laws join in family events and holidays that your ex-spouse is a part of, but he needs to be the one to invite them, that you don’t want to be the go-between. Whatever boundary is important to you, decide what It is and stick to it.  Unfortunately, if you don’t stick to your boundaries you can’t expect anyone else to stick to them.

Figuring out how to manage your in-laws post-divorce can be tricky, and having these conversations in mediation can be must easier. Contact West Coast Family Mediation Center to see how one of our mediators can help you. Call (858) 736-2411 for a free consultation.