“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius
Divorce is often a confusing, anxious time. People often report feeling as if they are the mercy of “the system”, the law, their spouse, the attorneys, or the courts in their divorce. This feeling of helplessness and loss of control only exacerbates the already difficult feelings of loss, grief, and worry that come with any divorce.
Ironically, people frequently respond to these feelings by relinquishing more control and letting their attorneys and the courts take over their divorce process. They are consulted periodically, but the attorneys handle the financial analysis, the negotiation, the strategic decision making and the other important parts of a divorce case. The courts dictate the what, when and where.
In my view, this is counterproductive because it only adds to the feelings of anxiety and loss of control. It provides a short-term feeling of relief because it takes some things off of your plate in the short term.
But, long-term, it leads to less satisfactory outcomes for clients. First, when you are not involved in the details of your divorce process, then you are far less likely to like your outcome over time. You will not remember the decision-making process that led you to your outcome. That may cause you to look back on your process and your outcome with confusion and doubt. Second, when you are intimately involved in your divorce process, you will have far more understanding of the financial, legal and personal dynamics at play in your divorce. You will not have to take your attorney’s word for what is going on and the possible solutions. Instead, you will be processing it as it happens and be involved in generating the solutions to the issues. That typically means that you will have a fuller understanding of how and why you reached the solutions that will shape your post-divorce life. In my experience that leads to clients feeling more in control, more satisfied, and less victimized after their divorce. Third, many clients grow frustrated because so much of the work an attorney does is outside of the presence of the client. A client will get a bill, but not have actually seen the work performed because they are largely detached from the work itself. In a collaborative process, the client is sitting beside their attorney for much of the time and has immediate knowledge of what their attorney is doing and how they are doing it. There is much less “mystery time” involved in your legal fees when you are an active participant in your case.
Certainly, some cases require you to involve the courts and litigation attorneys. And no one gets to dictate the terms of their divorce just as they would like.
But, there are enormous benefits to being an active participant in, and having a thorough understanding of the decisions and the decision-making process of your divorce. The only way that I know to do that is to participate in a divorce process that involves you not delegating the analysis, problem-solving and decision making, but rather taking an active role with your attorney in those facets. You do, and you understand.
Divorce involves loss. That is an inescapable reality of the changes that come with the end of a marriage.
Human nature is to weigh losses heavier than gains. We have a natural psychological tendency to focus on what we may lose, as opposed to what we stand to gain.
But, when assessing your divorce options, it makes sense to not just think about losses that may be realized, but also think about losses that may be avoided.
When weighing and considering the outcome of your divorce, in addition to whatever you feel you may have gained or lost, the losses avoided must be given significant weight as well. The amount of loss in your divorce is largely up to you and your spouse. Some loss is unavoidable: the cost of two homes is higher than for one, future plans may change, a parent may have less overall time to spend with children when parents live in two homes. But, there are many losses that can be avoided if a divorce is handled well. Legal fees can be held in check, the familial relationships can be salvaged, disruptions to children’s lives can be minimized, time lost at work and the impact on careers can be minimized, church and community families can be maintained, homes can be saved, traditions maintained; the list goes on.
Another way of saying this is that whatever may be lost in a divorce, things are also saved. The question for anyone facing a divorce is what do you want to save and how can you save it? How can you save as many of the good things as possible?
If you find yourself facing the prospect of a separation and divorce, you will automatically think of the losses that you fear coming. But it is also wise to think of the losses that can be avoided, and how you can best avoid them. In my experience, perhaps the biggest difference between a “good” divorce and a “bad” divorce is that the good divorces avoid far more losses, and save more of the good things than the bad ones.
The best way that I know to avoid unnecessary losses in divorce is to manage conflict instead of fueling it, to refrain from emotional behaviors instead of giving in to the urge, to jointly problem solve instead of blaming, threatening and manipulating, to retain your decision making authority instead of handing it over to the government, and to jointly work to insulate and nurture your children instead of fighting over them like property.
That is not easy, and it may not be for every client and family. But it is possible, and in my practice, it is the rule instead of the exception. All it takes are two clients who are committed to avoiding unnecessary losses, attorneys who know how to help them, and a well-designed process.
This Tedx video by David Hoffman explains why I do what I do at least as well or better than I can. It is powerful for me and hopefully for others. And, I think it explains the intellectual, professional and emotional journey for those layers who have chosen to be peace makers. Enjoy.
What does it mean to be tough? In divorce, most people (including many lawyers) believe that it means “sticking to your guns”, never compromising, issuing the bigger threats, puffing more, “big talk”, using intimidation. In the name of toughness, people are frequently encouraged to be uncaring, to deny any empathy for their spouse, and to turn off all humane or positive feelings about their marriage and their spouse.
That’s one way to do it.