One of this week’s most talked about legal issues is whether or not Larry King will divorce his wife Shaun Southwick. See “Larry King Divorce ‘Full Steam Ahead”. Last week the media speculated about the state of Tiger and Elin Woods’ marriage. The week before it was all about Sandra Bullock and Jesse James, and the week before that Charlie Sheen and Brooke Mueller. Next week another couple with a marriage in crisis will take the spotlight amid accusations of cheating, disclosures of prenuptial agreements, divisions of millions in assets and child-custody battles. Like many failed marriages, however, when the focus goes away the discussion about those matters will remain toxic.
Every day, famous and unknown families are torn apart by divorce. Here’s a story that didn’t make headlines. While it did not have a happy ending, the couple involved are still speaking to each other and making joint decisions about their children’s care.
He was a professor, she was a surgery nurse, and their girls were three and five. Just like most folks in their forties, they had a house, individual retirement accounts, some stocks, some love and some anger.
This couple chose co-mediation, where they met with a pair of mediators: she was a family law attorney and he was trained in psychology. After the mediators facilitated rational conversation and give-and-take, the couple agreed on everything from dividing their belongings and support issues to a collaborative parenting plan for the girls. They spent less than $2000 for the entire process, and more importantly, they remain civil and friendly to each other. And they decided the outcome. They retained control of their own lives.
Some people still choose to get divorced the old-fashioned way – where they let their emotions overtake their logic. They fight over everything, including things they don’t even care about. All they really care about is hurting the other one as the conflict escalates. This method requires lawyers and judges. One such young couple had $30,000 in community property and no kids. When they finished fighting, her legal bill alone was $40,000.
Couples with children who choose to fight do damage in another way, too. Their kids are watching and learning how to engage in conflict from their parents’ example. These kids will grow up thinking it’s normal to have parents who don’t have the skills to get along and who have to be carefully seated separately at graduations and weddings (stealing the spotlight at their kids’ events).
Some may say that a couple’s approach to divorcing depends on whether it ends by mutual agreement or by deceit and betrayal. I submit that it’s the other way around – that the way they approach divorce depends on their choice of process. Maybe like other contracts, there should be a marriage contract with a pre-dispute mediation clause in it, meaning, “We love each other now, let’s agree now that if anything ever goes wrong, we’ll use mediation to sort it out civilly.”
It’s a mediator’s job to keep a divorcing couple on the civil path, where it’s a lawyer’s job to advocate for their client’s interest above all others. The only thing divorcing couples have to do – celebrities or not – is make the choice to go the more civil path, and then let their mediator help them keep it there. They should make this decision for themselves and for their children.
Nobody knows how many celebrities use mediation to divorce, mostly because mediation is confidential, but judging by the magazine covers in the supermarket, far too few consider it. Maybe it’s because the financial cost of the divorce isn’t as daunting to them. Maybe it’s because they have an ulterior motive for having their names on the front pages for an entire week. Most of the couples in the news lately, however, have small children who are going to have to live for years with the consequences of their parents’ decisions about their break-ups. I hope at least one of them reads this post and looks into mediation. As you read this, you may know a couple who is in need of this advice. It could save them a lifetime’s worth of regret.
What do you think about the viability of a prenuptial mediation agreement?