I have been practicing law for 28 years. A substantial part of my practice involves domestic matters: Divorce, custody, adoption and other "family" matters. It is, understandably, one of the more stressful areas of law.
When I was in practice in Southern California, the first courts to install metal detectors were the family law courts. Next came bankruptcy court, then criminal court. Last were the courts where civil matters were tried. In our post-9/11 world, most if not all courts now have security measures but it's telling that the first courts to adopt them were those that dealt with family matters.
While all of us have at least been in the fallout zone of a divorce, when in the swirl of a divorce, things might seem more than a little crazy. It most often is a trying, draining, emotional time. And so, a few words from the trenches, guideposts if you will, before entering the arena of what can be one of life's more stressful undertakings.
• Punishment is not the goal. Years ago, a potential new client called. The first words out his mouth were, "My wife wants to divorce me. I want to destroy her." I listened long and carefully to the otherwise rational and pleasant gentleman and then responded, "I am not in the business of revenge." The goal of your divorce - especially when children are involved - is to make peace with it, make sure your interests are protected, then to move on. If your potential new lawyer breathes fire, he may not be the best fit to guide you through the legal and emotional minefield.
• Don't confuse the lawyers with your spouse. Often, there is lots of anger or, at the least, a sense of profound loss and disappointment. Keep in mind though, that both your lawyer and your spouse's did not create the problems between the two of you. While it's eminently human to recriminate against the lawyers, keeping focused on solutions is most times a better course. The lawyer on the other side is just as equally charged with protecting his client's interests as is yours. It is best to keep in mind that he is generally doing for his client precisely what you want yours to do for you.
• Children are the most important thing. When there are children involved in a divorce, their welfare must be preeminent. Whatever differences you and your spouse have grown into over the years, the children are utterly and completely innocent. Even after you divorce, if you have children together, you are at least in some sense "joined" in perpetuity. Even when the kids are grown and have kids of their own, it will be "Mom's or Dad's for Christmas?" The kids come first. Even if you can't imagine how you could ever get along with your soon-to-be-ex, you've got to figure something out. The children need you both.
• What's yours is both of yours. Under Colorado law, what was acquired during a marriage, however acquired - except through gift or inheritance - is marital property. Let's say after 20 years of marriage, you've bought a home and put aside a tidy nest egg. Regardless of who put what into the nest, the egg is both of yours. I often hear, particularly from husbands, "I'm not going to 'give' her half." The fact is, however, that the "half" is already hers. While there are means and methods of protecting a party's interests and structuring a divorce settlement in ways more or less favorable to your interests, the client will do well to remember that in entering the marriage, he or she agreed to share and to generally share equally with his or her spouse.
• You don't want a stranger to decide for you. Courts exist for very good reasons, among them to keep at least a relative peace between the parties. Better, I think, than to slug things out in some back alley. That said, however, divorce is personal. A judge simply cannot know what is dear to you. Most times, unless the other side is intractable and unreasonable, it's best to sort things out yourselves. Only you and your soon-to-be-ex know what is important to you and what is not. With the help of your lawyers, and a mediator if necessary, it is almost always better to work out a settlement than to have even the most well-intended stranger force a solution on you. That said, however, sometimes trial is the only reasonable alternative.
• Don't sweat the little stuff. Sometimes the little things are blown way out of proportion in divorce. Who gets the Elvis on velvet is seldom worth the stress and financial cost of the argument. When getting a divorce, keep your eye on what's important. And keep reminding yourself, it's not about pushing his or her buttons; it's about resolving the matter fairly and efficiently. Know what is important to you and stick to it.
• It gets better. There are reasons people divorce, likely as many reasons as there are couples. One thing I have learned in nearly three decades of practice, however, is that once a couple determines to divorce, there are most times real and substantial reasons. While anger, hurt, and resentment are understandable, I have yet to run into a client - whether six, 12 or 24 months after the divorce is over - who when I ask how things are fails to respond with anything but, "Better than ever." Have faith. It will be. You simply have to accept that we are imperfect beings, sometimes things don't work out, but we are a resilient and resourceful species. A new day always dawns.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECOTV 18 as host of "Community Focus." Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his e-mail addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.