Vail Daily column: Divorce should not mean destruction
I have been practicing law for more than 30 years. In that time, I have represented hundreds of divorces, some of them quite amicable; others, not so much. I have long joked, with a bit of melancholy, that I have the greatest job security in the world, for the job of a lawyer is, in large part, to deal with the fact that, too often, people just can’t get along. If you think about it, lawyers do two things: They either deal with conflict or they anticipate conflict.
If a lawyer is representing a party in a lawsuit, then it generally means that the parties are at their end and have been unable to peaceably resolve their dispute. If a lawyer is involved in transactional matters — contracts, prenuptial agreements, and estate plans for example — it is largely in anticipation that, unless things are clearly spelled out, one day people may not get along. Essentially, a contract serves two functions: First, it is a blueprint detailing the parties’ obligations to each other, and second, it is a formula that anticipates that one day things may go south and, if they do, the written agreement may help to resolve things before a full-blown war breaks out.
WORST Types of CONFLICTS
It is said among attorneys that the worst conflicts are marital ones. Second are often neighbor disputes. Read the headlines; if violence breaks out over a dispute, it is most times in a marriage which is fracturing, followed by a neighbor’s barking dog or its nettlesome equivalent.
There is little question that in divorce, emotions can — and usually do — run high.
When I first started practicing law — in the auspicious year of 1984 — it was in many ways a more innocent time. Sure we had come through wars, social strife and Watergate, but it was (or at least it seemed) a time of greater innocence and civility. In those first years of practice, there were no metal detectors at the courthouse doors; one came in, smiled at the cordial bailiffs and went about one’s business.
At some point — the exact date and year of which, I can’t now remember — things subtly changed. Out of nowhere, metal detectors suddenly appeared. First in domestic court, then some time later in bankruptcy court, then criminal court. Finally, they metastasized to an overriding ubiquity.
If you’re not following my nostalgic rhapsody, let me be plain: the first courts to get metal detectors in them — well before the criminal courts — were the courts where divorce proceedings were heard. In other words, they were placed where emotions ran the highest.
If you think about it, there is little more disruptive than a divorce. You are messing with someone’s family, kids, finances and their future. Throw in a generous dollop of fear, uncertainty and, oftentimes, resentment, and it can be a volatile mix. But it need not mean war, scorched earth or destruction. Divorce can be cordial, civil, and productive.
TAKE EMOTION OUT OF IT
So here’s the bugaboo. Difficult as it is, a divorcing party has got to try to take the emotion out of it. I know, I know, so-and-so did such-and-such and you never can forgive her/him. Understood. He/she disappointed you in so many ways. He or she didn’t turn out to be the person you thought or hoped that he or she would be. I get it. He or she is messing with your kids, your money and the happy life you’d dreamed of, all of which may be true. But, if one harbors too much resentment, then it clouds one’s reason. Sure the disappointment and anger are things to work out for yourself — and a sympathetic lawyer helps — but the goal of divorce is to disentangle with as little warfare as possible. One should not aim to use the process for punishment or revenge.
While it may be difficult to understand, the statutory scheme built about divorce is based on fairness. It is not intended to be a contest where, at the end, there is a winner and a loser. Rather, both parties should emerge from the emotionally difficult process as “whole” as they can be and disadvantaged as little as possible to begin their new lives. Especially when kids are involved, the goal should be — at the least — peaceable coexistence, even if the two of you are no longer living under the same roof.
WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS?
When a new divorce case comes in, some of the first questions I generally ask are about kids; how many are there, how old are they and how will they deal with their parents’ separating from each other? The next thing I often say is that they are the most important consideration in the divorce. Even if the parents have, sadly, come to loath each other, they will both be parents to the children even after the children are grown. Not only will each parent be legally responsible for the children until the day they turn 19, but even when they are grown, with children of their own, you and your divorcing partner will remain their parents. The better the two of you can get along — even through the difficult process of divorce — the better for you, the kids and your posterity.
Divorce is difficult enough. The goal should be for a clean break, a new brighter future and, yes, cooperation. The goal should never be retribution. What’s done is simply done. Whatever hurts have been inflicted, whatever disappointments suffered, one is wisest to move on. The courts should not be used to exact revenge; instead, they should be used to guide the parties to a peaceable and efficient resolution. The notion of who “won” and who “lost” should be removed from the equation.
Divorce is sad, traumatic and disruptive. To throw fuel upon the flames out of hurt or anger most times only conflates the pain and trauma. Taking the higher road, 30 years of practice have taught me, is always best.
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. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.