Divorce Can Be Empowering–First Person Reflections

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A client (male, mid-thirties, 2 children, 10 year marriage) whose divorce agreement had just been approved by the court emailed me–with permission to share this anonymously, as are all the quotes here:

“Our court hearing this morning went fine. The judge asked a few basic questions about whether we each understood and agreed with the separation agreement. I felt extremely liberated and dignified as I walked out of the courtroom. I do think this divorce process has been a source of growth for me. I have never felt so protected as I did by you. You respected me by creating a safe space which I felt like I could then grow into. Never in my entire life have I felt this before.”

It’s always good to hear so specifically from clients how my work was helpful. He went on to say that he had used his new strength to stand up for himself in a hostile business matter. I’ve had a substantial number of clients describe their divorce as the source of growth and empowerment. (I keep a Client Thank You’s file that I read from time to time to bolster me on especially hard days.) One former client (female, late 40s, 3 children, 15 year marriage) wrote:

“Instead of the divorce being a focal point of resentment and pain, I now look at it as a step toward better family relationships. Ours is about the best divorce arrangement we’ve encountered, and I’m very grateful for the assistance you provided during such a terrible time in our lives.”

Divorce IS a terrible time. It’s hard to experience it any other way. It is a tearing apart—a kind of death– even if it results in a restructuring of the relationship of the formerly married parties that can endure. I have no clients who take divorce lightly. People frequently feel as though their lives are broken—often in the horror that can precede deciding to divorce—not to mention in finding the guts to rise to the challenge of a process in which comprehensive money and property decisions, and if children, weighty parenting ones, must be made.

As I read back over that file of emails, I see clients who reflected on how it was they were able to reach an agreement that governed all aspects of their divorce. One (mid-sixties, teenage children, 17 year marriage), referring to the Collaborative Law process in which he and his wife divorced, appreciated that the legal issues were made accessible so he could understand them, and was “enabled to make productive choices.”

It may not be until well after the divorce is concluded that one has the perspective to see how the process affected continuing family relationships. A client (mid-sixties, long term marriage) writes:

“Our divorce agreement, and the sensitivity with which it was drawn up, is working well. There have been no disagreements over terms, and our adult children have not complained over how their mother was treated. I believe this divorce was the best thing for me, and was done in the kindest way possible.”

People can grow after the divorce as well as during the process. One client told me, “I learned more than I ever imagined I would, and for that I feel fortunate.” A couple with whom I worked as a parenting coordinator post-divorce, advising me they no longer needed my services, concluded:

“We believe we are both much more equipped to co-parent constructively and beneficially for [our daughter]. Your advice and guidance these past 2 years have been instrumental in doing a complete turn-around in our co-parenting efforts. At times it was strained but we have both worked to keep the focus on doing what was best for our child.”

Others feel they know themselves better and are more empowered as individuals. and do not expect any continuation of a relationship with their ex-spouse:

“I have stayed away from contact with [ex-spouse]. It is somewhat bittersweet, and the sting of a failed marriage will always be there. But life is good, and my relationship with [new partner] is going well.”

Or simply, “I am looking forward to starting over and beginning my new life.”

Some are resolute, this 80-something spouse thanking me for “keeping my cool” in the “whole weary debacle”: “I solemnly promise I won’t get married again!”

Divorcing people are almost always assessing how they are doing, and who they are or are becoming as they divorce. An ethics scholar divorced for several months writes:

By the end [of the divorce process] I was so trusting of your confidence that I valued your opinion of how I did morally more than just about anyone else I knew.”

Those enduring divorce must rely on the values and ethics they bring to it. As a divorce and family lawyer , I must work with what a client brings to the table, while encouraging the best in him or her. I am heartened to see that those planning to marry, whose confidence is generally a lot higher than those divorcing, are committed to proceeding with integrity. A client whose pre-nuptial was negotiated in many meetings with her and me, and her fiancée and his lawyer, wrote after she was married:

“Your gracious stewardship made a difficult process bearable and held the space for us to sort out a lot of complicated stuff, and we are better together because of it.”

Sometimes it is a family member of a divorcing party who has a broader perspective of the effect of divorce than the one divorcing. The father of a client wrote:

“Even though this has been very traumatic for [my daughter], her life has improved tremendously. I was worried that her marriage seemed to give no outlet for her tremendous energy. I’m not sure her husband, a very decent person, ever understood what she was all about.”