What Divorce Isn’t

Married couple fightingA Divorce Should End the Fighting, Not Make It Worse

Everyone knows a divorce means the end of a marriage, but in addition to realizing you’re no longer happy and would be better off apart, many people add an additional layer of complexity to the process that makes separating and starting over an even more difficult, painful and damaging experience. It’s the seductive lure that appears to hold many benefits but in the end offers no victory, no prize and no peace for the couples who engage and it’s the idea that fighting in the legal arena for a ‘better deal’ will somehow right the wrongs of the past and help you find closure. Well that, folks, is an illusion.

As someone who, years ago, went through the customary legal divorce process angry and devastated, expecting validation and justice, I can say without hesitation that the legal gymnastics don’t work, period. Today, many years later, whether it’s during an initial consultation or in mediation, one of the biggest challenges I face is helping people manage their emotions. Why? Because doing so is almost always in their best financial interests. Very few couples I meet and work with are familiar with the mechanics and politics of how family law is actually practiced and as a result they cling to the (unrealistic) expectation that a legal authority, be it an attorney or a judge, can provide the emotional validation, disguised as a better financial outcome, that they want and believe they are entitled to.

Family law is unique in that there are few absolute, black and white laws that can be applied uniformly to each case which is why no two financial settlements or visitation/parenting plans will ever be exactly the same and also why Family Court Judges have such judicial latitude. While on the surface this may seem like a good thing because it seems as though the court is willing to address each couple’s unique circumstances, the flip side is that people tend to use someone else’s settlement as the measuring stick for what they should get regardless of whether it’s fair, reasonable, in their best interests or even possible in their financial situation.

What does a successful divorce look like?

Is there is such a thing as a successful divorce? Yes, but what constitutes a successful divorce varies widely between Attorneys, with their adversarial, litigative and advocative approach and Mediators, who utilize a more conciliatory, practical, win-win approach when helping their clients. A litigated divorce is generally considered successful when an attorney feels their client got the ‘better deal’ regardless of the emotional impact on the other spouse, the effect on children or the cost in legal fees. Their entire perspective is one that focuses on short term, dollars and cents gain. From a Mediator’s perspective a successful divorce is one that meets everyone’s needs and best interests, it doesn’t deplete the couple’s finances at a time when they can least afford it or damage their children’s relationship with either parent. In mediation the focus is on creating a settlement that benefits everyone, helps keep former spouses out of court in the future and allows them to start over unencumbered by on-going divorce related disputes.

The most challenging part of a divorce is managing your emotions and knowing the difference between advice that’s counterproductive and advice that will actually help you weather the storm and move on. Contrary to how many perceive it, making your divorce about blame, punishment or retaliation will not provide you the emotional validation you want and need, something that will never be found in a legal battle or a courtroom anyway. Divorce isn’t about living the rest of your life in anger. If you want to be truly empowered and begin to prepare for a new life the best thing you can do for yourself is realize up front that whatever pain or punishment you attempt to inflict on your spouse will affect you as well. That’s just how the system works. Your best interests will only be served when you respond to your divorce sensibly rather than reacting to it.

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