The Echo of Divorce

I heard the phrase “the echo of war” for the first time this week.  An expert on Chechnya was discussing the Boston Marathon bombings as a possible “echo” of the military conflict in Chechnya that began almost 20 years ago, the Iraq Wars or the war in Afghanistan.

 

That got me to thinking about the “echo of divorce”.  These military conflicts, this expert explained, created resentments, hard feelings and explosive emotions among some Muslims.  Once created, these volatile feelings were very hard to contain.  So, years after these conflicts began, we may have heard an echo of them in a most unexpected place.

 

Divorce is simply another form of conflict.  It too has an echo. 

 

And, the echo of divorce can also be heard decades after the fact and in very unexpected places.

 

The echo of divorce can be heard in your children’s emotional well-being, school performance, future romantic relationships, and adulthood.

 

It can be heard in your family life, financial future, your future romantic relationships, your emotional well-being and friendships.

 

It can be heard in your place of worship, job, school, and social circles.

 

It can be heard at holidays, birthdays, graduations, weddings, delivery rooms and custody exchanges. 

 

But, once an echo is created, it is difficult to control.  Just as no one could have foreseen the events in Boston, you will have trouble predicting when and where the echoes of your divorce will sound. 

 

The good news is that you can largely control the sound and volume of the echo of your divorce.  In my experience, noisy divorces create louder, longer more negative echoes.  Quieter divorces create lower volume, shorter and more positive echoes.

 

Determining the echo of your divorce starts with finding a divorce process that reduces anger, animosity and acrimony in favor of respectful dialogue. Diplomacy over combat. It proceeds by not wasting time on argument, but instead invests your valuable time and money in problem solving.  It finishes not by crowning the “last man standing”, but in a dignified de-merger of two whole individuals. 

 

Decide early on what kind of echo you want your divorce to have, and choose your divorce process accordingly.  Otherwise, you may be dealing with unpleasant echoes for a long time.

Lessons from Christie Brinkley’s Divorce

As a collaborative divorce attorney and mediator, I spend a lot of time explaining the potential negative effects of an adversarial divorce. 

 

But, nothing exemplifies those negative effects as well as the story of Christie Brinkley and her husband.

 

They have been divorced since 2008, but they are still consumed by the anger and hard feelings generated in the divorce. 

 

Instead of moving on and finding happiness, they are emotionally chained to events that happened four years ago.  And imagine what their kids’ lives have been like since!

 

Unfortunately, this couple’s experience is not unique.  Less famous stories like theirs play out every day for many couples who choose to handle their divorce in a “win/lose”, “me versus you”, “attack mode” process like going to court or traditional negotiation process.

 

One of the keys to collaborative divorce is “de-escalation”, or the lowering of tensions and emotions during the negotiation process.  This helps couples think clearly and productively.  And, it models the blue print for a healthy future co-parenting relationship.

 

I can’t help but wonder what would have been possible for Christie Brinkley, her husband and her kids if they had chosen the collaborative divorce process.  I suspect that her Today interview would have been about her career, as intended, instead of her divorce.  

Update: Family Financial Settlement Mediation Certification

I am happy to announce that I have been certified to mediate court-ordered Family Financial cases by the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission (NCDRC).  

While I have mediated family financial issues by for families that selected me in the past, I am now certified for court appointed mediations in the family law field.

This means that judges in Wake and surrounding counties can appoint me to mediate equitable distribution, alimony and other financial issues in family law matters.  

I look forward to continuing to help families resolve their financial problems as a NCDRC Certified Family Financial Settlement mediator.

The Value of Neutral Information in Child Custody Issues

Unbiased neutral information about the children and their families in custody issues is invaluable.

North Carolina judges seem to be placing greater value on the opinions of neural third parties in custody actions.  But, expert witnesses that testify in court are cost prohibitive for most people.  Most people simply cannot afford to pay $5,000 to $10,000 or more in addition to their legal fees to hire an expert to provide this testimony.  And, experts hired by just one of the parties are hardly considered neutral.

In the face of these issues, more judges are appointing a Guardian ad Litem to provide truly neutral opinions on what is in the best interest of the child.  In a growing number of cases, a Guardian ad Litem is appointed by the court to investigate the situation and make recommendations to the court regarding the child’s best interest.  A Guardian ad Litem can be an attorney, but can also be a non-attorney. 

The value of a Guardian ad Litem’s testimony is that it is coming to the court from a neutral source who is not advocating for one of the parents, but instead for the child.  It is a truly objective look at the family and the child.  Objective neutral information is hard to come by in a litigated family law case.  That is why it is so highly valued by judges. 

Collaborative divorce has long utilized child expert neutrals to provide the kind of objective unbiased information that a Guardian ad Litem can provide to a court.  The major advantage of the Collaborative process is that it provides not just neutral input, but expert neutral input.  The child/parenting neutrals that participate in the Collaborative Divorce process are trained therapists that specialize in children’s issues.  They are experts on how children react to divorce and provide neutral, unbiased expert input as to how the children in a particular case are handling the separation and divorce.  They also provide information on what the children will need moving forward to help them adjust to the new family situation in the healthiest way possible.  And, because the child neutral is hired by both parties in a Collaborative Divorce, the information remains unbiased and objective.

The courts’ increasingly active pursuit of information from neutral third parties in the form of Guardian ad Litems reinforces the time-tested wisdom and value of the child neutral in the Collaborative Divorce process.  The advantage of Collaborative Divorce is that this neutral information is more affordable and is provided by an expert in the field.

If you believe that obtaining neutral expert information about your children and their adjustment to the divorce would be helpful to your decision making, then you should consider obtaining that informaiton through the Collaborative Divorce process.

Cost of Court is Rising in North Carolina

The cost of going to court in North Carolina has gone up as of July 1st.

There are some significant changes to the costs of family law cases in particular. 

The cost of filing a family law action is now $150.00. 

Whereas the extension of a Summons used to be free, it will now cost $15.00.

The additional fee for an absolute divorce will remain at $75.00.

In the past, filing a motion after the lawsuit was filed was free.  Now, there will be a $20.00 charge for every motion filed in an open family lawsuit.  There are exceptions for some child support enforcement actions and for motions to enforce or modify domestic violence protective orders.

However the biggest change is that now counterclaims (claims by a defendant against a plaintiff) and cross-claims (claims between two defendants) will cost the same ($150.00) as filing a complaint to begin a lawsuit in family court.  Filing counterclaims and cross-claims has historically been free in North Carolina. 

That means that filing a divorce action will cost $225.00.  And, if your spouse counters with claims for property division, financial support or child custody, it will cost them $150.00.  That’s $375.00 just to get into the courthouse!  

So, the cost of court is rising.  And, given the deep budget cuts in North Carolina, it seems obvious that the expense of resolving disputes in court will continue to rise.

The rising cost of court is yet another reason that resolving family law issues through collaborative divorce or mediation makes so much sense.  

Has Divorce Lost Its Shimmer?

This recent article in the New York Times makes the case that women’s views on divorce have changed over the last thirty years.  

While women may have viewed divorce as liberating in the 70’s, according to more recent research, it is now viewed as a failure.  

And, society’s reaction to divorce has changed.  Whereas divorce was once seen as something to be celebrated, it may now be harder for divorcees to discuss their divorce openly.

Further, the article notes that the divorce rate among upper middle class couples has fallen over the last 30+ years.  

The question remains as to whether these changes are a result of better marriages or differing attitudes about divorce.

Semi-Happy Marriage

There’s a new book out about the “Semi-Happy Marriage”.  As profiled on the Today Show this morning, Marriage Confidential explores the life of couples that are roughly satisfied with their marriage, but not ecstatic about it.  

I cannot help but wonder what percentage of these couples will find themselves separated or divorced later.  

Hopefully, they will take the steps to make their marriage fully happy before it comes to that.

Perhaps the book can be a catalyst of positive adjustments in your own marriage.  

Or, perhaps it is just an interesting read.

The Ripple Effects of a Bad Divorce

Unlike almost all other kinds of cases, family law resolutions typically cannot involve a “clean break” between the spouses.

Children, continuing financial payments and other continuing connections prevent most spouses from totally eliminating the other from their life. 

In contrast, two companies in a dispute can simply choose to never do business together again; an injured person and the person that hurt them can simply avoid each other; a lender and a debtor can choose not to borrow or lend from each other in the future.

Families don’t have that choice. 

Therefore, how a family law case is handled makes a huge difference for family law clients.  If two companies that never have to do business with each other again hate each other, they can cut ties.

But, if two parents that are going to be tied by children and financial commitments for years to come hate each other, well, then you have a recipe for long term disaster.

For example, in an adversarial and positional divorce, the following common situations frequently lead to numerous trips to court, unnecessary arguments and ballooning legal fees:

  * Future parenting decisions about schools, medical treatment, religion, etc.…(not to mention the smaller day to day decisions that can lead to problems (TV hours, sports, sleep-overs, discipline, etc.…));

* Decisions about selling a house:  Selling price, repairs to be done, repair concessions, etc.…

* Increases or decreases in financial support payments due to income fluctuations;

* Temporary adjustments to financial support payments due to income fluctuation, increased expenses or major life events;

* Adjustments to co-parenting schedules due to work schedules, new families, new spouses, children’s changing needs, etc.…

* Decisions about who will attend future family events with children and grandchildren.

 

By contrast, in divorces that are handled respectfully, productively, and in an interest-based model, these problems are frequently resolved by simple phone calls or emails.   This is only possible because the spouses saved enough of their dignity and their relationship to communicate with each other after their divorce. 

The point is this:  Allowing your divorce to take on an adversarial, positional, contentious tone will not solve your problems or effectively resolve the legal issues of your divorce. Rather, it will set you and your family up for future court battles, legal fees and destruction.  These ripple effects can haunt families for years and even decades after the actual divorce.

Choosing processes like Collaborative Divorce and mediation offer the chance to avoid these negative ripple effects in the future. 

 

Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an experienced family law attorney accepting cases in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Clayton, Smithfield, Wake Forest, RTP, Durham, Chapel Hill, Holly Springs and surrounding areas.  He focuses his practice in divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, property division, paternity, guardianship and other family related matters.