The problem with divorce is that the existing scripts are terrible. The dominant paradigm says: now that the marriage is ending, you suddenly switch from being my partner to being my enemy, and the only way for me to get my needs met is to fight against you in any way I can. The costs of the fight can be devastating – emotionally, psychologically, and financially.
But even when people are actively seeking amicable separation, they very often find themselves sliding down the slippery slope towards an adversarial process, because that is the way our legal system is set up. You get your lawyer, I get mine, and each will do his or her best to advocate for our separate interests.
I just listened to a fascinating teleseminar with Lenard Marlow, J.D, author of Common Sense, Legal Sense and Nonsense About Divorce – a new book in which he advocates a one-lawyer divorce model. (No, I haven’t read it yet – it just came out yesterday.)
I’m not aware of any attorneys in my community who are advising couples jointly through the divorce process (though I’d love to know if there are any.) My understanding is that they are ethically bound NOT to do so. So, as a mediator, I refer people to separate attorneys to get their agreements reviewed before filing.
The challenge, then, for the divorcing people, is how to get the benefit of the legal counsel, without getting drawn into battle-mode. Unfortunately, in my experience, many people therefore choose not to see attorneys at all, even in situations in which I, as the mediator, urge them to do so.
The messy truth is that there are no simple answers when it comes to divorce – every situation is unique, and is made up of the particular highly personal circumstances of the individuals involved. There simply is no objective standard by which anyone can measure all the components. But isn’t that true about life, in general? Every marriage is unique, and the reality of relationships is that they are, by their very nature, messy.
I suggest that you do everything you can, as a divorcing person, to maintain control over the process. Remember that it is YOUR divorce, just as it was your marriage, and nobody but nobody is more of an expert about your life than YOU are. A lawyer can and should give you specific legal information about legal matters, if and when you need that advice. But your common sense, your gut feelings, and above all, your sense of personal responsibility and integrity should be your strongest guide. (To read more about the role of attorneys in divorce, please read Get a Lawyer and Mediate and Getting Divorced Amicably.)
As Lenard Marlow so aptly put it, the overwhelming emotions of divorce usually generate “more heat than light,” and can make it seemingly impossible to manage all the many significant decisions you have to make during the divorce process. All that heat makes it easy to slip into the script of “divorce on the warpath.” Don’t do it. Get legal support when it comes to legal matters, get emotional support from your friends and family, get psychological support as needed, and get a good mediator who can guide you through the process collaboratively.
Don’t be afraid to be the author of your own divorce script.