One of the most interesting and fulfilling parts of my law practice is to assist people who are contemplating divorce or in the midst of divorcing. I consider this work in helping people though a very significant transition in life quite meaningful. An attorney applies all of his or her legal knowledge in dealing with divorce issues – financial, real estate, pension, and tax law. In addition, all the attorney’s personal experiences, plus knowledge gained through his or her practice are used to address the personal issues in a divorce – anger, grief, fear, and issues involving children.
As a divorce attorney, I generally do not go into active attack mode immediately when I meet a new divorce client. (Of course, if there has been physical abuse, protective actions must be taken immediately.) I probe a new client carefully to see if this is a divorce that will really happen, or whether a client is just considering divorce as an alternative to an unhappy period in his or her marriage.
Many times clients think divorce is the only way out of an uncomfortable marriage, without analyzing the repercussions of divorce – financial and otherwise. Unfortunately, some attorneys start the ball rolling right away with a letter or a filing before doing this initial step. Lawyers are technicians, and sometimes the technical side can overcome the human side. By doing the initial step of probing the causes of the breakup, even if the marriage can’t be saved, the divorce can progress in a healthier manner.
I certainly don’t believe all marriages should (or can) be saved. However, there are some cases where a gentle touch by the lawyer at the beginning can lead the parties back to each other. For instance, in hearing a client’s story, the attorney (as an objective “third party”) can point out that the client may have a misunderstanding regarding the other spouse’s motives, actions, or feelings. The attorney might be able to see that there is still great affection between the client and his or her spouse. Or, the client may be totally unaware of the financial rules of divorce, and has an idealized (and totally incorrect) picture of what the economic ramifications of the divorce will be. In cases like these (and many others), the chances of reconciling are present and can be quite significant.
If you ask any “happily” married couple whether they’ve considered divorce, I think you’ll find the answer in most cases (if they are being honest) to be “yes.” That they have considered divorce does not mean the marriage should be abandoned, or that their marriage is valueless. On the contrary, it shows the strength of marriage as an institution, since a marriage often grows stronger as it encounters and overcomes problems. It is often the negative experiences in life (death, illness, bankruptcy) even more than the positive ones (children, livelihood, family) that can bring a married couple closer together.
As any married person knows, all marriages are not perfect. People who are married tend to have a great deal of patience, and look at the glass as “half full” rather than “half empty.” People in vital, healthy marriages see that their appreciation of and commitment to their spouses grow deeper as the years progress. It seems very sad for people in a divorce to throw away the investment of 5, 10, or 20 years with a spouse, and yet this may be necessary at times if living with a spouse is painful and the pain never lets up.
But how much pain is too much? I have a rule about how long a marriage should continue when it hits a painful period. If you’ve been married two years, give it another two years. If you’ve been married for five years, give it another five years. You will find that the painful periods are usually patches that resolve after a relatively short period of time, and the marriage continues. Aren’t you lucky you didn’t throw it away? To harden a painful period into a divorce may not be a useful action to do to yourself and your spouse. At first you had (solvable) problems. Now you have a divorce, which is a problem in itself. I can’t tell you how many people in their second marriages have told me that if they knew then what they know now, they would have been able to work things out and stay with their first spouse (not that their second spouse is such a bad person).
If you’re seriously contemplating a divorce, you should see an attorney right away to figure out what the economic repercussions of your divorce will be. Divorce law is fairly straightforward, and an attorney can give you a “read” on what the economic results of divorcing would be for you and your spouse. If your (or your spouse’s) position has not hardened, this information may be helpful in deciding to divorce or trying to make your marriage more satisfying to each of you. We hear a lot about those “Hollywood Divorces” – people of higher economic means who are able to divorce frequently without drastic consequences. People in more modest economic situations are actually luckier, since their mutual economic interdependence is a strong positive force that helps preserve and maintain their marriages, and helps them appreciate the efforts of each other in daily life.
Of course, both parties must be committed to trying to work out their marriage. It helps to know that everyone’s marriage isn’t perfect, and that marriages can actually get better as time goes on. If you want to continue to try to work it out, seeing an excellent couples counselor on a regular basis for a period of time (and having that person “on call” for future problems) can really work.
© 2006 Laurie Israel. All rights reserved.