This article first appeared in The Huffington Post
This is the first in a two part series.
I recently had the opportunity to preview Divorce Corp., a documentary by film director Joe Sorge. Divorce Corp. purports to be a “shocking exposé of the inner workings of the $50 billion a year U.S. family law industry Divorce Corp. shines a bright light on the appalling waste, shameless collusive practices seen daily in family courts.”
Divorce Corp. provides a very narrow outlook of some very bad outcomes, which I don’t believe are everyday occurrences. And therefore, may give a viewer who isn’t familiar with the inner workings of the divorce process an unrealistic perspective of what really goes on. For example, the documentary implies that going to Court is the only option available to arrive at a separation agreement. The truth is, there are other options – called Alternative Dispute Resolutions or Consensual Dispute Resolutions. These include negotiation, mediation, Collaborative Family Law and arbitration. The problem is, we live in an adversarial, argumentative culture whereby the common perception is that the only way to resolve a dispute is through going to Court. The truth is, you don’t have to, and many divorce professionals are indeed encouraging their clients to stay out of court. The reality is, people in the throes of divorce actually have control over outcomes if they choose to stay out of court, thereby enabling them to be the decision makers of their outcomes, rather than have it made for them by a judge.
Divorce Corp. does not provide a balanced perspective of divorce, it’s incredibly one sided. Like many in the documentary, I experienced a long protracted divorce process which lasted over 7 years. However, unlike these litigants, I don’t blame all of this on the lawyers (at least not mine) and the judges. Albeit, there were some trying times! Yes, I agree, the system has many flaws. The costs related to court were indeed astronomical – both financially and emotionally. But, I don’t put full blame on the system; my former husband and I were partially to blame too, because we got caught up in the “emotional divorce.”
There are two sides of divorce to wade through– the emotional divorce and the legal divorce. Divorce is upper- case Emotional, and if not managed properly, it can wreak havoc on the legal process. While it would be really nice if the two elements could be handled one after the other–you could spend a few years dealing with the emotional issues, and then, heart and head clear, go through the legal process–but, the truth is, that emotions and legal processes cannot be clinically separated, and usually have to be managed at the same time. The outcome? You’re forced to make decisions when you’re least able to emotionally do so; least able emotionally to properly evaluate your options; least able to ask the important questions of your legal counsel. And most importantly least able to evaluate options with clarity….causing one to be reactionary, rather than responding with a clear understanding of the long term impact.
While there are many good lawyers, judges and custody evaluators, there are also some that aren’t so good, horrible actually. But, we can’t blame the bad apples for all bad outcomes. That being said, what is positive about the documentary is that it’s encouraging a dialogue about divorce, the Court system, the children’s best interest, the cost to divorce and more.
What should this discussion include? The need for a profound change to the way divorce is managed as a legal process. A wholesale change to almost every aspect of the divorce process is necessary in order to dramatically influence society – and thereby reshaping perceptions for happier and healthier, positive outcomes. In other words, let’s change our worldview from being an adversarial and argumentative culture, towards becoming settlement oriented. I wrote The Smart Divorce and became divorce coach for this very reason, and so I was inspired to hunt for less painful ways to manage the divorce process and share it with others. And now, I am supporting people in having more positive outcomes from their divorce, for a happier and healthier future.
The Ripple Effect of Divorce
There is a significant ripple effect of divorce in society; divorce impacts not just the family in transition, the tentacles and effects are far reaching. There are both hard costs that are measured in dollars, and soft costs quantified by research – and immeasurable social costs.
For example: Divorce ranks second only to the death of a spouse or child on a scale of stressful life events. It can spill into the workplace as lost time, more frequent errors, and suppressed creativity. Angry employees may even project it onto co-workers or customers. It can take up to 5 years for an employee’s productivity to rebound. And further, I read a statistic somewhere that 50% of women and 30% of men remain angry 10 years post divorce! It’s a no wonder, given that for many, you’re forced to make decisions at a time you are least emotionally prepared.
In addition to the affects and distresses of divorce as highlighted in much of the research in terms of poverty and the impact on children/adult children of divorce, it is also important to highlight the number of children whose relationship with a parent dramatically changes. This may be as a result of abandonment or estrangement, fatherlessness, and the loss of one parent role model; it is a serious concern as it may affect this next generation. How will this generation of children perceive relationships and commitments? Will this increase or decrease the incidence of marriage, divorce or cohabitation?
Post divorce, the aftermath of parenting issues can be deep and long lasting. The difficulty some parents experience is maintaining connections with their children as their children age and enter adolescence, when friendships are often more important than parent time.
The impact of divorce is beyond economics. It’s about people, not just about process, but how it touches people.
The divorce rate rises with each subsequent marriage, at over 60% for a 2nd time divorce, and over 70% for a 3rd time divorce; clearly third time is not a charm. Moreover, many individuals that repartner are choosing to live together, and research has shown that the breakup rate of these unions is greater than in marriage.
So, what can you do to avoid the negative consequences depicted in Divorce Corp.? You’re in control, you can make the decisions. What’s the truth? You decide!
You can decide on the outcomes – stay out of court. Empower yourself with information and education. You have alternatives to Court. Use them.
You can decide the best interests of your children – co-parent with respect. Whether you like it or not, you are going to have a long term relationship with your former partner. However you feel about your ex, your children are entitled to a relationship with both parents, and they should not be put in the middle of your conflict.
We do need to open the discussion about divorce and how it impacts society as Divorce Corp. suggests. But it’s up to all of us – the public and all divorce professionals, to change the culture of family justice. It’s up to us to decide, and not let a few bad apples spoil it for those that want to move away from an adversarial system to one that is far more respectful and honest. And while that dialogue is in process, take charge now, and empower yourself with information and education to have what I call, a smart divorce.
Part 2 of this discussion will deal with recommendations on changes to family justice.
It’s my belief that people be provided with a balanced perspective from many professionals in an effort to draw their own conclusions to make informed decisions about all aspects of the divorce process.
January: The Divorce Month