Howard Chusid, Ed.D, LMHC, NCC

Can I Divorce with Dignity?

We have all heard the gossip at the office water cooler or at dinner parties: "Boy, did she take him to the cleaners;" or "He can't even afford an apartment and he has to live with his parents;" or "not only did he lose the house, but she got half of his 401(k) and everything he worked for." As awful as these results may sound to the bystander, imagine the damage done to the parties' or the impact on their children. How awful still, when you know you are the subject of your friends' gossip!

The American legal system, with its adversarial litigation process, encourages costly legal battles, leaving little room for parties to deal peacefully with one another. Divorce cases, by necessity, should be different from other kinds of civil litigation because former spouses must continue to work together long after the war is over, especially if minor children are involved. Unfortunately, by today's standards, most divorces end up in all out war, permanently damaging relationships between mother and father and often times, between parent and child. We believe that a divorce can be handled in an atmosphere of mutual respect that allows the participants to feel that they 'get a fair shake' and have the opportunity to preserve a functional relationship for the longer haul.

That is why many couples contemplating divorce are now looking into mediation as a way to work out their issues with more dignity than we usually see in a typical litigated divorce. Unlike a trial, mediation gives the parties an opportunity to speak to each other face to face in an informal meeting guided by a neutral and impartial third person, the mediator. The mediator's job is to help the parties communicate their positions to each other in a constructive manner, without the arguments and recriminations seen in the adversarial process and help them construct their own solutions to the issues of their divorce.

According to long time family attorney and mediator, Sam Margulies, in his book Working with Divorcing Spouses, "A good divorce is not an accident and can be achieved by couples who intentionally manage their emotions and resources to avoid the common pitfalls of contemporary divorce." He suggests the following components to a good divorce:

1. Understanding the emotional process;
2. Understanding the legal process the couple is experiencing;
3. Understanding ways to manage strong feelings and valid interests;
4. Understanding how we make emotional choices and how those choices interact with legal issues;
5. The ability to negotiate in a fair manner until the matter gets resolved;
6. Managing the financial components required in maintaining a household; and
7. Negotiating strong feelings, using an approach, which will not immediately negate the former partner. (1)

Skeptics will look at this list and say, "I understand the process, and I could do all those things, but I am going to get shafted anyway." As mediators, we are often asked things like "I have heard about people who have good divorces; what can we do to make it happen?" The best answer may be to understand that you, your spouse, and your children are going through a very emotional and frustrating time. You may not understand how you got to this point in your relationship, or you may be at your wits end with blaming, fighting, and screaming, none of which allows for clear headed decision making at a time when you need to make important decisions. If you are considering mediation, we recommend some first steps:

1. When talking to your spouse, keep tempers down and do not jump negatively at whatever the other party says.
2. Together, and if necessary, with the help of a mental health expert, explain to the children what is happening, and emphasize that the divorce is between you and your spouse and it does not change the love you both feel as parents for them.
3. Establish a list of realistic expectations: List the issues before you get to mediation; discuss them with a close friend or confidant; and talk about the possible outcomes.
4. Determine what you can live with and what is not negotiable. You will need to decide where you are willing to compromise in order to get something that is more important to you.
5. Remember, the word "yes" goes far in alleviating a problem or putting people at ease; the word "no" shuts people down, blocks further discussion, and starts unnecessary arguments that are destructive rather than constructive.
6. Understand that good solutions will not be reached overnight. It will take time to get effective results.

Getting a "good divorce" does not mean getting everything that you want or punishing your spouse for whatever wrong you think they committed. It means that both parties may walk away with what they deemed most important, even if they have to compromise on other things. The goal is a fair meeting of the minds that also preserves a functional relationship for the future.

(1) Margulies, S., Working with Divorcing Spouses: The Guilford Press, NY, 2007 P. 309

Howard Chusid, Ed.D, LMHC, NCC

The Family Law Cooperative is a group of caring professionals who offer a cooperative approach to divorce and other family disputes. We guide couples through the confusing and emotionally charged divorce process in an atmosphere of mutual respect and dignity. Our team includes Florida Supreme Court certified family mediators, mental health experts, children's therapists, parent coordinators, financial planners, and accountants to provide you with the support services you need to navigate the complex issues you may be facing including: parenting and timesharing plans, child support agreements; marital settlement agreements; marital asset valuations, divisions of assets and debt; spousal support, and post dissolution matters.

We can be reached at the Family Law Cooperative
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