Many divorces are messy, but one couple is changing the way people think about them in a new book.
Nikki DeBartolo and Benjamin Heldfond were married for nearly seven years when they decided to part ways. But instead of approaching their separation like most couples, they decided to make the experience an amicable one by putting their son, Asher, first.
“People need to realize that we made the decision to get married and have a child, but our kids can’t be stuck with the emotional bill,” DeBartolo told “Good Morning America.” “Kids take on that emotional bill.”
So DeBartolo and Heldfond took the unconventional route and met at a coffee shop to hash out the terms of the divorce themselves. And that’s where they say they were able to move forward from there.
- 1December 12, 2018
“We tried to put the past behind us as much as possible,” Heldfond told “Good Morning America.” “And so we acknowledged ending the relationship despite what the other did or didn’t do. We said we were sorry and we accepted the other one’s apology.”
While it took them at least two to three years to find happiness in their divorce, by focusing on their son first, they’ve been able to successfully co-parent and change their relationship for the better.
But what makes DeBartolo and Heldfond’s relationship unique is how they were able to blend their family together after they each remarried.
In 2010, DeBartolo married her husband, Chad, and in 2012, Heldfond married Nadia. In 2013, Heldfond and Nadia had their daughter, Izzy, and then their son, Jackson, two years later.
While many may think a situation like theirs would never work, DeBartolo and Heldfond have created a tight-knit modern family where they have dinners at least once a week, take vacations together, and even celebrate big life events.
“Our relationship today is pretty out of the box. We try to do as much as possible together,” said DeBartolo.
“We try to normalize it as much as possible,” added Heldfond.
To this day, both families are so close that they even live seven houses away from each other.
“Most couples don’t use other spouses in a divorce as tools,” said DeBartolo. “We treat our spouses as a second parent.”
Now, DeBartolo and Heldfond are sharing their story and some secrets to successful co-parenting in their book, “Our Happy Divorce: How Ending Our Marriage Brought Us Closer Together.”
As for their son, Asher, putting their love for him first by devising a strategy to work things out nearly 13 years ago has strengthened their relationship as a family. Recently, DeBartolo, Heldfond and their son went on a safari -- a trip for just the three of them, something they never thought they’d be able to do.
“Asher has the best of both worlds,” said Heldfond. “He can be at my house or he can be with Nikki, but together our family, as crazy as it is -- it’s ours and it’s special.”
Here are some of DeBartolo’s and Heldfond’s tips to successful co-parenting:
While most divorced couples choose not to communicate, Heldfond and DeBartolo talked it out from the get-go. “We didn’t think it would be as good,” said DeBartolo. “But it took time.”
2. Be patient
“It’s going to be a fruit-salad of emotions,” said Heldfond. While he and his ex-wife are at a happy place in their separation, they say that it wasn’t always happy for both of them. Realize that it will take time before getting to that place, they said.
3. Include your kids
One of the co-parenting mistakes that Heldfond and DeBartolo say divorced couples make is that they don’t include their kids in the conversation. When they were first separated, DeBartolo and Heldfond had a morning routine where Heldfond would come home just to see their son off for school. DeBartolo said that their son just had a hunch that Heldfond wasn’t sleeping in their bed. “Talk to your kids and be honest with them,” said DeBartolo.
4. Admit to your wrongs
When DeBartolo and Heldfond met at a coffee shop that day to discuss their divorce and work things out between them, they each acknowledged their faults and made amends, truly accepting each other’s apologies. “Too many people focus on what the other person did instead of realizing that their own actions are a reason for what they did or did not do,” said DeBartolo.
If it’s one thing that both are successfully able to do while co-parenting their son, it’s working together as a team while doing it. To this day, DeBartolo and Heldfond have made each decision based on how it would affect their son. “I look at mine and Nikki’s relationship like the wheels on a car,” Heldfond explained. “If one of those wheels don’t work, then this co-parenting thing won’t work.”