Like many of  you, I am a child of divorced parents. Lately, as I’ve supported family members and friends through their divorces, I’ve been thinking about how divorce affects families and its effects on family photos.

In the process of divorce, photos get deleted, lost, burned and destroyed.

In the middle of a painful divorce (Honestly, who’s divorce isn’t painful?), some people get angry. They might delete every photograph they can find of their soon-to-be-ex spouse. They may make a big bonfire to burn every shred of their life as part of a couple.

Sometimes, pictures get lost in the transition to apartments until stable or more permanent living arrangements are made. Pictures can be lost when left behind with the ex.

Here’s what you can do to save family photos during a divorce.

Here's what you can do to save family photos during a divorce. Click To Tweet

If it’s your divorce, print out digital pictures before you delete them.

Gather up all of the photos around the house, and the wedding albums, and put them in a labeled box or bin. Ideally, your box would be archival quality. Ideally, it would be acid/ lignite free, not cardboard, and you would keep the box in a climate, moisture controlled environment.

Divorce is not an ideal situation though. If at this point, you would much rather burn, mutilate or otherwise destroy every photograph you can find, and it’s taking every bit of your will power not to do that, I understand.

Don’t worry about the how you’re going to save the pictures, just save them. Saving the photographs can be hard, but it will be worth it.

While you’re gathering photos, don’t worry about labeling them right now. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t spend very much, if any time looking at them. It might be too painful. You’ll risk getting nostalgic and losing motivation to finish, or it might make you angry looking at that soon-to-be-ex- person’s face again.  It might make creating a dart board, or the backyard bonfire look more appealing than dealing with saving the pictures.

Just put the photos away to go through later.

It doesn’t matter right now how long later is, but usually it’s after some time has passed.  It’s usually easier to wait until later to sort through a box or bin like that.

If you’re feeling strong enough, and want to deal with it, as part of your grieving process, you can scan your photos and documents with a high speed scanner and make thumb drive copies for your ex.

They even have a service so you can send them your box, and scan it for you.

If it’s not your divorce, but the separation of a friend or family member, check your albums, phone, and digital accounts on social media for pictures of the couple/ family.  Physically print them out before they are lost or removed.  Label them, and tuck them away for later.

Also, when your loved one suggests a bonfire to burn every picture, talk them out of it, please. You may offer to hold onto their box of pictures for awhile, until later, for safe keeping.

Being a supportive friend doesn’t mean you supply the lighter fluid and matches to burn photos, no matter how much you want to.

After the divorce is finalized, and later comes, What do you do?

Repurpose, donate or re-gift any picture frames. You can use one to make something like this.

Sort and label the pictures.

Save or give as many away as you feel comfortable with.  Remember, though that the pictures aren’t just about you.

Be mindful that if you have children, your adult children will probably want a piece of their personal history someday. You can create or preserve pictures for them in an album, or labeled box to give them when they are settled. Transitional times like college or the early 20’s tend to be nomadic. You may want to wait until the children are more established to give them permanent stewardship for the photos you saved.

At your wedding, there were probably other people there with you celebrating in the photographs. There were friends, and family sharing your special life moments during the marriage as well. Consider returning photos to the guests and friends. There maybe someone who has passed away, since you were married, captured in those photos.

What a beautiful gift it would be to share that photo with a mourning loved one.

It may also help the hurt you feel looking at how happy you were once, even though it’s later , to feel a little less painful.

What if you don’t have any children from the marriage? Do you still have to keep pictures?

Search for the friends in your pictures, and give them photos. Offer some to your ex. Don’t be offended if they decline. Save as many or as few as you want to, but at least one picture. You might want to  pretend like you never knew your ex, but the truth is that you were married, and you loved that person once.

They are a part of your personal history… even if it is a part you wish you could avoid, forget, or burn in a fire.

Divorce effects family photos in other ways too.

Kohler family reunion August, 2016

Kohler family reunion August, 2016

Divorce means missing people in family pictures.

At our last family reunion, there were 12 people missing. They were missing for various reasons, and we missed spending time with them. With a smaller family like ours, it makes a big difference when people are missing.

It’s especially painful when people are missing in family photos, due to complications associated with divorce, like 5 of them were.

Divorce can change the photographic documentation of life moments and special occasions as well.  There may be every-other-holiday visits, double birthday celebrations with different sides of the family, and fragmented extended family relationships.

Maybe you never liked your mother-in-law. You may like her even less now that you are in the process of, or already divorced. Mend a broken branch on your family tree.

Send her school pictures of her grandchild. If your ex isn’t with you for first day of school photos, school play pictures, sports team events, or other moments, send pictures.

If it’s too hard not to add a snarky remark, or sarcastic jab when you send the pictures, say nothing.

The pictures will speak for themselves.

If your extended family member or friend is newly separated or divorced, include them in celebrations and special occasions. Invite them to join your family. Welcome them to join in group photos. Let them know they can come alone, and you want to have them there.

Especially around the holidays.

Give them a hug, and tell them you love them and are glad they are part of your life. Divorce is painful. It can also feel very lonely.

My mom and Dad in separate pictures with me on my wedding day

My mom and Dad in separate pictures with me on my wedding day more than 25 years after their divorce

Lastly, someday, even if it takes years to happen, please take a picture together with your child or children and your ex. You can have the kids in between you so you don’t have to stand next to each other. You don’t have to touch. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.

You can still take a picture if there are other/ new spouses and kids involved. In fact, you should also take a group photo that includes them as part of the extended, blended family as well.

It probably won’t be easy. You may have a sore tongue from biting it so hard, so you won’t make an embarrassing remark or take a dig at your ex. You may be exhausted from having a totally fake smile plastered on your face.

That’s okay.

It will be worth it.

That family photo of you together with your child celebrating a special moment will record that you are strong enough to put aside anger, frustration, and hurt, for at least a few seconds during picture time.

A photo that records that, is a photo worth saving.

Genealogy Jen’s Challenge of the Week –  Look through your picture collection, how has divorce impacted your family photos? What will you do today to mend a broken branch on your family tree?

Bonus Points – Reach out to someone that may not be a part of your family anymore due to divorce. You don’t have to rekindle a relationship with them. Just, give or share some family photos with them.

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