Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Working Together to Break Apart

Of all the topics a single, never-married man probably should avoid, divorce may rank up in the top five. And usually, I try to be respectful to people going through such a difficult time by keeping my mouth shut, since there are always two sides to every story.

But divorce has become such a prevalent occurrence in our society, the topic is hard to avoid. Recently, a new method of conducting the divorce process has emerged that tries to accomplish what conventional litigation and well-intentioned mediation have failed to do: make divorce more user-friendly.

Suppose a divorcing couple has children, or a business, or other significant assets. Suppose the couple has decided they want as amicable a split as they can get. This is where collaborative divorce comes in. This emerging class of family law generally deals with divorce and making the break-up of families less stressful.

Collaborative law involves the inclusion of specialists from a spectrum of disciplines, such as child psychology, personal finance, trusts and estates, small business law, appraisers, accounting, and insurance. All of these experts are hired by both parties (the wife and husband) for neutral advice, to which both parties have access and upon which consensus can be achieved as decisions are made. In theory, it sounds like a humane, logical, and prudent way to help mitigate the affects of divorce on children, family finances, and even spousal angst.

Can Divorce Be "Family-Friendly?"

When parents divorce, usually their kids suffer the most, so providing an emotional cushion for them must be a priority. But otherwise, I wonder: Should we be working to make divorce less painful? Is diluting the effects of the destruction of one of our society’s basic building blocks possible? Or advisable?

Why do you think divorce is as destructive as it is? When a business partnership comes apart, there can be financial and emotional problems, but they’re usually only as devastating as the participants make them. You don’t hear of people sending their kids to counseling just because a business partner backed out of a deal. Why is divorce so different?

Intellectually, we all know the reason: Because divorce is the opposite of marriage, and marriage comprises a social institution of such intrinsic importance that damaging it in any way is naturally painful. Divorce is like taking the keystone out of an archway; remove the lynchpin, and you’re going to have fallout. It’s just a basic fact of life.

On their website, the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas says they provide a “more family-friendly method of divorcing.” But that’s on a scale of barely quantifiable differences, isn’t it? Did your archway fall completely, or did just parts of it collapse on itself? Does it really matter? Either way, the arch is gone, and the space it was covering is completely useless.

Oh, Really?

The website goes on to say: “A mutually-respectful approach to divorce can dissolve a marriage while protecting children, saving the dignity of both parties, and preserving the wealth of family assets.”

"Mutually-respectful?" If the couple are divorcing, mutual respect has already flown out the window.

“Dissolve a marriage?” Marriages may end, but they don’t dissolve. To dissolve something is to make it disappear, but unless your marriage lasted twenty minutes, it won’t ever just disappear. Things happen in all marriages that cannot be ignored, and that people can’t simply pretend never happened.

“Protecting children.” Marriage is designed to protect children. Ask any child of divorce – ANY child – and if they say their life is better because their parents divorced, then they probably don’t understand what marriage is supposed to be in the first place.

“Saving the dignity of both parties.” Sorry – but in cases where the divorce is being pursued because of infidelity, one party has already relinquished their dignity. If the divorce is an even 50-50 decision, then both parties have relinquished their dignity by virtue of their unwillingness to make the marriage work. The fact that society doesn’t – and shouldn’t – penalize divorced people doesn’t mean there is no shame in failing to live up to one of the most significant covenants into which humans can enter.

Divorce Hurts For A Reason

Even though I've never been in one, I'm aware that marriage can be difficult and even heartbreaking. But I can't say I've ever known a divorcing couple who have both decided to throw in the towel without any animosity of any kind. The brutality of divorce usually follows patterns of behavior that have already left deep scars in the marriage relationship. But even if divorce is a mutually-satisfactory decision, should a married couple be able to shrug their shoulders and say, “well, we gave it a try, and it didn’t work out. Let’s just shut this thing down and move on”? I'm not going to say that all divorce is wrong, but neither do I believe we should work to make it seem natural or incidental.

Should we tolerate efforts to streamline divorce? Should we just stand by while people try to sterilize and anesthetize the destruction of marriages?

Might laying bare the raw characteristics of divorce for all to see help people be more prudent during their engagements? Does making divorce more family-friendly increase its viability as a possible option if things take a turn for the worse after the Hallmark type of love begins to fade into real life?

Maybe if people worked as hard at saving their marriage as they do trying to make divorce less painful, it wouldn’t be necessary in the first place. Instead of collaborative divorce, why not try a collaborative marriage?

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