Forward Thinking Family Law Since 1994

What 40 Years in Practice has Taught Me About Helping Divorcing Couples

Divorce is often a necessary component of a marriage, but it is one of the most difficult life experiences that any of us will have to endure.

            Generally, people start a divorce with a great deal of anger and fear.  Those who have decided to end their marriages have taken a critical look at the relationship and have determined the marriage does not meet their needs.  This does not mean the spouse is a bad person (though they may be) in most cases, it means that you are no longer “good together.”  It helps a lot in the process of divorce if you can make this distinction.

             Those who wish to stay married, and are taken by surprise, are just coming to terms with the reality that their life is about to change dramatically.  They are also angry and afraid, for other reasons; one being that they feel they have no control over their lives.  Their trust in their spouse has been shattered.

            Whether the party who wants the divorce or the party who is resisting the divorce comes to my office, the client is facing a significant learning curve.  My primary job is to help them achieve the curve and be patient while they undergo the process.

            These people have taught me a lot.

  1. The client has to experience the learning curve. I can assist them by pointing out what they should be focusing on, how they can improve the process, learn more quickly, come to acceptance and make peace with the process.  However, they have to do the work.  The clients who want me to do it for them and call them when it’s over, need to change their perspective.
  1. The attorney cannot do it alone. Increasingly, our clients and we have realized that we need to work collaboratively with other experts; mental health professionals and financial professionals.  Only then will our clients have the full range of services they need at this difficult time from the experts who are best suited to help them.
  1. Encourage them to get professional help for other members of their family; a therapist or therapist for their children and even their spouse.
  1. Encourage them to talk with their spouse, if it’s safe (meaning the relationship is free of domestic violence).  If they do not feel comfortable talking directly with their spouse, encourage them to talk in joint counseling sessions or in mediation or collaborative practice sessions. 
  1. End each session with the client with a recap of where we are and what will be coming up next. In other words, tell them the next thing on their agenda.
  1. Respect that the outcomes that your clients will fashion are not the same as what you would suggest for them or what you would suggest for your own family.  Respect that our clients do know what’s best for their family.
  1. Having said #6, the client should permit their attorney to share her experience with you.  You are paying handsomely for it.  Ask their advice on what you propose.  Also, when they question you more deeply about your plans for settlement, understand that they may be able to help you accomplish the same goal, but in a more tenable way.  They are not disrespecting your choices.

            40 years of working with divorcing couples has taught me that we attorneys have to keep our eye on the big picture.  Where will the decisions our clients make today lead them in the future?  Sometimes, when clients are in the middle of a divorce, they make decisions that feel good at the time.  They do not consider the consequences in the long term.  That is when the attorney is invaluable since they have worked with clients who have regretted immediate gain over long-term, lasting solutions.  Smart clients use the resource and see divorce as a long-term process.

            Divorce can take months; perhaps years to complete and achieve a long-lasting settlement.  You owe it to yourself and your family to invest the time and energy into accomplishing a humane, thoughtful and loving outcome that will benefit all of you.  You may not feel that this is possible at the beginning of a divorce.  However, with the assistance of competent professionals, it is possible.




Categories: Family Law Blog