Judy and John Reggio of Cranford, N.J., divorced in February after almost 17 years of marriage — but they're not going to let that get in the way of some holiday traditions.
John came by the house to decorate the Christmas tree with Judy and their sons, John, 14, and C.J., 12. And on Christmas morning, he'll arrive early to join them for breakfast and watch the kids open presents.
They are among a growing group of divorced couples whose efforts to get along without warfare are upending the stereotype of bitterness and hostility so often associated with divorce.
Her ex was skeptical at first about all the togetherness, says Judy Reggio, 46, a freelance writer. "My answer to that was, 'We can make this what we want to. There are no rules.' "
That mind-set is apparently spreading, according to relationship and divorce experts, who say that divorce today doesn't have to mean constant sparring. Former partners can indeed get along — and not just at the holidays. And although there may be plenty of acrimony with the split, they add, it can fade with time.
But in American culture, "there is no model that exes can really be friends," says clinical psychologist Judith Ruskay Rabinor, author of Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids, and Yes, Your Ex, published earlier this year.
Rabinor, of New York City, was married in 1968 and divorced in 1983 when her children were 8 and 12. She remarried in 1996. Her ex died last year, and she gave a eulogy. She says that in her practice, she's been seeing more effort among exes to get along. One obvious reason: the kids.
"Children are the glue that keep the parents together," she says. "It takes a village — and your ex-husband remains such an important person in your village."
But Rabinor acknowledges that it doesn't always work out. Sometimes one partner can't get past the discord and anger. In other cases, there are valid reasons to keep a distance — such as a former spouse who is violent, has substance abuse problems or whose mental illness prevents a healthy post-divorce relationship, she says. In other cases, a new partner may be suspicious or jealous about former spouses who seem too cozy.
Michelle Crosby of San Mateo, Calif., is a child of divorce who is divorced herself and now remarried. A family law attorney, Crosby, 37, in January founded Wevorce, a company "focused on amicable divorce — legal, emotional and financial."
She says many couples in the midst of divorce are "spending a considerable amount of time navigating what that road map looks like."
And there are plenty of people dealing with a romantic rift. The USA's percentage of divorced men and women has been inching up since 2008, when the Census first asked such questions. In 2008, 11.9% of women and 9.3% of men were divorced, compared with 12.4% of women and 9.8% of men in the most recent survey estimates for 2012. Divorce rate data from last year show 9.3 divorces per 1,000 men and 9.8 divorces per 1,000 women.
Crosby is well aware of family strife. Her parents divorced 34 years ago. This year marks the first they'll be together for Christmas. "There's a new motivation," she says — the grandchildren, ages 3 and 5, her brother's kids. They said they wanted Nana and Pop Pop to both be there for Christmas.
Another motivation: to avoid having "the ugly divorce story that impacted my brother and me to impact the next generation," Crosby says.
Robin Bernstein of New York City and her ex-husband, Donald Bernstein, of Greenwich, Conn., have worked hard to avoid animosity. The couple, both 59, were married 19 years before divorcing when their kids were 7, 13 and 15. When the kids were growing up, they lived within three blocks of each other. Both have remarried.
"We always tried to think about what was in the best interest of the kids," she says. "But more on a basic level, we have known each other since freshman year of college. We grew up together, and we just care about each other in a very deep way."
Donald Bernstein, an attorney, says their post-split relationship has evolved. "After we got separated, we never went out for lunch or dinner. We talked often at the beginning because we had three children to deal with. As they got older, we didn't talk regularly," he says.
But now they have a granddaughter, who is almost 1, and they are in touch sending photos and attending family gatherings with their current spouses. "I'm sure it was awkward for everybody at first, but it eased into something that was very comfortable," he says.
Even though Paul Weinberg of Los Angeles, a tech entrepreneur, and his former wife, Susan Dyer, a clinical psychologist, have no children to bind them, they do have an affable coexistence. Weinberg says they get along so well that they wrote a book together, The I Factor, out last year, which focuses on emotional connections.
"It was a natural outgrowth of the fact that in our relationship, during five years of dating and three years of marriage, first and foremost we were friends," he says. "The benefits of being amicable vs. being hostile are obvious. The question is whether this is a person you still want in your life in some way, shape or form."
Judy Reggio says she and her ex, John, 44, a vice president for a wedding website, are careful to make sure their friendliness doesn't give the kids the wrong impression that they may reconcile. Both date; she's been in a relationship for a year.
"Once you have kids together, you're a family, and no piece of paper — be it a marriage license or a divorce certificate — is ever going to change that," she says.