There is one big reason why I choose to represent divorce clients in collaborative divorce, mediation and other non-litigation processes: Avoiding this.
The story of The Psycho Ex Wife blog is awful. It is the story of a couple with two children who were divorced but could not stop fighting.
Eventually, Anthony Morelli started the blog to essentially derogate his wife and say all of the nasty things about her that he could imagine. And, to spread the love, he got his new wife involved in the fun.
I’m not sure how he thought this blog was in the best interests of his children. As the judge in his case correctly pointed out, it seems unlikely that Morelli can adequately focus on both the best interests of his children and destroying their mother on the internet.
In fact, child psychologists will tell you that one parent’s out of control anger towards the other will almost always have seriously negative implications for the children. After all, what kind of anger management is he modeling for his kids? And, who really comes off as psycho?
However, based on the 200,000 visitors a month, and the number of visitors sharing their anger about an ex-spouse, it seems that this kind of nightmare divorce scenario is all too common these days.
The good news is that there are good ways to get divorced without generating so much anger and hatred. Is anger a natural emotion in a divorce? Absolutely. But, through collaborative divorce and mediation, the anger is processed and managed so that both parents and children can move on without having to live in the anger of the divorce for years down the road.
After all, what is the point of getting divorced if you are going to spend the rest of your life letting your ex-spouse still control so much of your time and energy?
Can you imagine what Anthony Morelli and his new wife could accomplish if they spent less time focusing on how angry they are, and invested that time into something more productive? How much more time could they devote to their kids, their marriage, their careers, or, here’s a crazy thought, doing something constructive in the world? And, how must the new wife feel about her husband being so wrapped up in his ex-wife?
Bottom Line: If you want to spend your days blogging about how crazy your ex is, then by all means, choose an adversarial process for your divorce. Court rooms and hostile attorneys are the perfect recipe for that kind of post-divorce misery.
But, if you would actually like to move on from your divorce in some sort of healthy way so that you can focus on something other than how much you hate your ex, then collaborative divorce or mediation may be your answer.
Learning from the experience of others is a double-edged sword. You can avoid a lot of mistakes by watching others make them first. But, you can also fall into a lot of mistakes by assuming that your experiences will be like someone else’s.
Case in point: I know someone whose mother had a heart attack decades ago. While hospitalized for the heart attack, her mother developed a serious complication. The doctors caught it pretty late and some extensive tissue removal was required. It was traumatic for my friend and the mother.
My friend learned a lot from that experience. Unfortunately, what she “learned” was that doctors cannot be trusted to take care of her. What she took away from her mother’s experience was that she was better off staying away from doctors because she would probably end up worse off for trusting them.
This has, in turn, led to her to avoid doctors for decades. She is now suffering from serious medical conditions that could perhaps have been avoided with regular care from a doctor. Her quality of life has been seriously impacted.
She made the mistake of watching her mother’s experience and assuming that her experiences with doctors would be the same.
This same dynamic is endemic to divorce. Many, if not most people going through a divorce will reach out to friends and family who have been through a divorce. In many ways, this is a great thing. It can provide support and succor in a very tough time.
Unfortunately, it usually comes with being given the gory details of the friends’ divorces. And that can lead to the same unhealthy learning that affects my friend.
Many clients “learn” from their friends that divorce is a war. They have learned that if you don’t strike first, then you will somehow suffer. They learn that lawyers and ex-spouses are dangerous, ill intentioned creatures that must be combated at every turn. They learn a false dichotomy of “fight or die”.
They then assume that their divorce experience has to be like their friends’. This causes more distress, worry, anxiety, fear, unnecessary aggression, cost and destruction than is warranted.
Just like my friend, a divorcing spouse can find himself or herself suffering the affects of this assumption for a long time.
While some divorces certainly become very ugly and destructive affairs, typically that happens because the parties have unwittingly chosen that kind of divorce. They may not have expressly agreed to have an ugly divorce. But, the indelicate handling of their divorce has made the decision for them.
In my friend’s situation, the unseen reality has always been that doctors, in fact, provide a great deal of help to people. Her mother’s experience was an anomaly.
For divorcing couples, the reality is that dignified, respectful and even transformative divorces are common. They are free to choose to not have an ugly, destructive divorce. But, it requires a choice.
The bottom line is this: Don’t assume that your divorce has to be like someone else’s. You have options. Your family and your marriage are unique. Therefore, your divorce should be unique as well.
In emotionally charged situation, its not so much what you do, but how you do it.
Just ask LeBron James.
One of my colleagues is a Cleveland native. I never understood why the people in Cleveland hated James so much after he left. After all, he had created a lot of money and good will for Cleveland for years (about $300 million per year according to one estimate). Then I talked to my colleague. He explained that it wasn’t the fact that LeBron left. Rather it was how he left that caused the hard feelings. James’ timing, and the show he made of his signing with Miami kind of rubbed it in Cleveland’s face. Clevelanders feel that James hurt his old team as much as he could on the way out. At the very least, they feel that he was coldly disrespectful in his departure process.
As a result, James is a pariah in Cleveland, and even in Ohio at large. In case you didn’t know, James is a Cleveland native. But, now he can’t even go home without hearing it from local fans. He literally went from hometown hero to public enemy number one. And only recently has he acknowledged this mistake.
James could easily have preserved his name and reputation in Cleveland if he had handled things in a more effective manner.
What does this have to do with divorce?
I don’t know of a much more emotionally charged situation than divorce.
Like the James situation, divorcing couples are facing changes. However, divorcing couples are facing a much more personal and emotionally charged situation than the melodramatic James debacle.
The repercussions of a divorcing couples’ divorce process will have far more serious consequences for their children, families and financial lives than a sports story.
Therefore, the “how” of a divorce typically has a far greater impact than the actual decision to divorce. Couples can choose to resolve their differences in the co-parenting and financial aspects of a divorce without losing their dignity or the respect of their spouse. Or, they can choose to go about things in a deceitful, combative, and positional fashion.
Couples can choose to work together in a collaborative divorce or even mediation. Or, they can choose to go after each other in court.
Child specialists will tell you that the way a couple divorces typically has more impact on a child than the fact that the parents are divorced. Mental health experts will tell you that this is true for parents as well.
If you are considering a separation or divorce, then give some serious thought to how you handle that divorce.
After all, as LeBron James learned, it’s not necessarily what you do, but how you do it.
Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an avid sports fan and an experienced family law and collaborative divorce 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.
North Carolina’s courts have made big news this week. Durham County District Court Judge Nancy E. Gordon recently entered a child custody order based at least in part on the mother’s diagnosis of Stage IV breast cancer.
As this segment from the Today Show explains, Alaina Giordano lost primary physical custody of her two children because she has breast cancer.
However, the local legal grapevine has revealed some other alleged factors that were not revealed in most news reports.
One important piece of information is that a mental health expert allegedly told the judge that her belief was that the kids were better off with the father so that they could enjoy a more “normal” life. This, in my experience, would be a hugely relevant factor in the judge’s decision. In complicated cases like this one, most good judges want to hear from experts like the one involved in this case. The expert rumored to be involved in this case is very well regarded and very experienced in child custody evaluations. Perhaps the expert’s report indicated that a “normal” life for the children was more important than maximizing their time with their mother while she is still here.
Also, rumor has it that each spouse made allegations of abuse against the other during the proceedings. In that situation, the judge is left to weigh the credibility of each party’s evidence and decide which one is telling the truth (assuming either one of them was being truthful). If either or both spouses’ allegations were proven to be unfounded (or even malicious), then that spouse’s credibility may have been damaged in the judge’s eyes. If that happened, then the judge may have viewed all of that party’s testimony skeptically.
While the initial reaction to Judge Gordon’s decision has been outrage, her decision may seem more reasonable as the facts slowly emerge to the public. Or, perhaps the facts will only fuel the outrage.
But, don’t expect to find out all of the reasons for her decision in the Custody Order. A judge must put information in the order to help justify her decision to the Court of Appeals if Ms. Giordano appeals the ruling (although the order itself will likely be drafted by the father’s attorney and simply reviewed and approved by the judge). But, there may be reasons for the decision that never make it into the order. So, we may never know exactly why Judge Gordon believed that the children were better off with the father.
In the end, this judge was forced to make a very difficult decision about these kids. As is typical in custody litigation, it looks like everyone will lose, including the kids.
This case further highlights why parents may not want to leave decisions about their kids in the hands of the courts.
Historically, few people travelled the high road of divorce. This has been true in the past because the adversarial nature of the American justice system creates a “me versus you” structure to divorce.
However, as new “non-court” legal processes like mediation and collaborative divorce have developed, lawyers have been able to offer clients a chance to take the high road in resolving their child custody, alimony, property division, and child support issues (while usually saving untold amounts of time, money and destruction). These processes reject the “me versus you” approach of the courts with a joint problem solving approach borrowed from psychology, business and politics.
As highlighted by this Huffington Post article on taking the high road in divorce, most people’s greatest concern in their divorce is their children. The article highlights how taking the high road actually protects children from the negative impacts of divorce.
This divorcee’s story is an example of the changing face of divorce: From fear based mudslinging to respectful and dignified discussions. As the author’s personal story reveals, taking the high road is not the easiest road, but it is usually the best road.
Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an experienced family law attorney catering his practice to clients who want to walk the high road of divorce 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.
I have handled many collaborative divorce cases. However, I have never gone through the process as a client. So, it is difficult for me to fully explain to clients what the process will feel like for them.
However, Haleh Modasser has been through the process recently. So, her story is far more powerful than anything that I can tell others about the process.
The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals has released a video that follows a real couple through their collaborative divorce. These people are not actors.
It provides the best idea of what the collaborative practice looks and feels like of any resources that I have seen.
If you or someone you know is contemplating a separation or divorce, please share this video with them. It could literally have an impact on their families and children for years to come.
It may be the biggest favor that you ever do for them.
I find that many clients are completely unaware that they can actually choose the process for resolving their family law or divorce issues.
As many people are stunned to discovery, in North Carolina you don’t have to go to court to resolve the issues of property division, cash flow, support (alimony and child support), and co-parenting (child custody).
While a legal divorce does require court action, the other and usually more pressing issues can be resolved privately, through a number of other processes.
I have created a presentation that explains the basics of each process and briefly analyzes the pros and cons of each. This was initially presented to a large Triangle company through its employee services program. But, I think many more people can benefit from this information.
This informaiton may help you discuss your options with each other, and with any professionals that you consult.
Feel free to contact me if you have questions about this information.
A California judge decided a unique child custody case this week. The judge was required to decide whether a paralyzed and disabled mom who cannot speak should see her children.
As chronicled in this heart-breaking article, Abbie Dorn was paralyzed during the delivery of the triplets that are at the center of this case and has remained severely disabled.
The children’s father argued that Ms. Dorn is no longer capable of being a mother. Ms. Dorn’s attorney countered that Ms. Dorn can contribute to her children’s lives even without the ability to move or speak.
I do not know what the laws of California say about this matter. I suspect that, like most states, California’s courts put the best interest of the children at the forefront of child custody rulings.
I suppose reasonable arguments can and have been made for both sides. However, it seems to me a dangerous precedent for a court to determine that a parent’s value to their child’s life is solely dependent on the parent’s physical abilities. After all, this is the only mother these kids will ever have.
Perhaps for these reasons, the judge ruled that even if the mother cannot interact with her children, her children can interact with her. The judge then ruled that the children should see their mother for a set period of time every year.
There are some legal intricacies in this case that are of interest to lawyers only.
But, it seems to me that the real lesson of this case is that whatever limitations you believe that your spouse may have as a person and a parent, the courts know that each parent has value to their children (abusive and dangerous parents aside). And, the courts will work very hard to foster a child’s relationship with each parent. This court required cross country travel just so the kids could be with their mom, touch her and see her smile.
That is something to think about the next time you get frustrated with the other parent of your child and think about going to court.
Perhaps the most common property division issue in divorce matters is “what do we do with the house?”
The marital home is a big issue for several reasons. The house is often the largest asset that a couple owns. Cash flow issues frequently create the need for more cash, creating a need to liquidate the equity in the house. One spouse may be emotionally tied to the home for sentimental reasons. The parents may want to keep the house for the sake of the children.
Suffice it to say, there are often many issues at play when making decisions about the family home.
That being said, most couples’ decisions regarding their home fall into one of the following options:
1. Selling the house
This is frequently done when a couple cannot afford to maintain the marital home as well as a second home for a spouse that moves out. It also works for couples that no longer need a large home. This is also the only option if neither the husband nor the wife wants to keep the home.
2. One party keeps the house.
This may work when one of the spouses wants to keep the house, and the other spouse does not. This is also common when the parties feel that is important to keep the children in the house for continuity. Frequently one spouse “buys out” the other’s interest in the home.
3. One party stays in the house for some period of time, then the house is sold.
This works for a lot of couples that need to buy time. The couple has to then determine how the expenses of the home will be paid until the home is sold.
4. The parties keep the home, but rent it to a third party.
This option is less popular, as most clients prefer to simply sell the house if neither wants to live there. And, finding renters can be a challenge. However, in the days of declining equity, this option may allow the couple to avoid a loss on the sale of a home until the market turns around.
Nesting occurs when the parties keep the home and alternate time in the home. This is an option when the couple puts a high priority on keeping the kids in the home. The parents have to figure out where they will live on their “off” days, which sometimes requires keeping up three homes instead of just two.
The marital home is often a central issue in a divorce negotiation. There are many possible ways to address the house. The important thing is that the couple finds the solution that works for them and their family. In a collaborative divorce, the parties have the time, space, safety and advice to do just that.
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.