Below are my 5 ground rules to help you (or someone you love) Love Your Divorce:
1. DIVORCE SUCKS!!
2. All spouses are monsters (including your spouse’s spouse).
3. It does not matter whose fault it is.
4. It is never too late.
5. If someone’s life is in danger, get out now. Figure the rest out later.
What is the purpose of having ground rules for a divorce? To give the divorcing parties some guideposts. Some relatively simple questions get more complicated during a divorce. Questions such as, “Is this normal?” “What should I do next?” “Why is this happening?” Most of the questions which arise during the divorce process can be answered quickly and accurately by one of the ground rules. Memorize them and apply them often, both during, and especially after, a divorce.
You need to know the rules in order to participate actively and intelligently in the divorce process.
1. DIVORCE SUCKS!! When you are confused, as a person watching or living through a divorce, always go back to rule number one: divorce sucks. There are moments when it will be easier, with glimpses of hope, but those are the highlights. The actual substance of the process of divorce is that it sucks: for the person who wanted a divorce, for the person who didn’t want it, for their children, their friends, and relatives. Here’s what it does: it sucks up everyone’s time, money, and attention. Remember how much energy it takes to plan and throw a wedding? Well, that’s an event that you really can’t do badly, because whatever happens, most people will say, “it was a lovely day.” A divorce is just as huge and personal and public as a wedding, except NOW you feel like everyone’s plan is to tell you that you are doing it wrong, making it even more high-pressure.
The best divorce sucks much more than the worst wedding.
Despite the fact that it sucks, people go through divorce for very compelling reasons. The only thing worse than a really bad divorce, of course, is a really bad marriage. It is bad for the spouses, but also for their friends, family, and – worst – children. So, getting out of a bad marriage requires going through a sucky process, the divorce. But, then, when it is over, if it is done well, both the marriage and the divorce are over, and everyone is free to move on with their lives. If a divorce is done poorly, the fallout can last several lifetimes.
2. All spouses are monsters (including your spouse’s spouse). My friend went with her daughter Sarah to college freshman orientation. Sarah was a bright, beautiful 18 year old who had mostly lived alone with her mom since she was 2. They had a nice house. Sarah had her own room, her own phone line, and her own television. At a certain point in the orientation, the kids were sent off in one direction, and the parents were brought into an auditorium where the dean addressed them. The dean said, “Expect a lot of phone calls the first year. Each one of your children will call you and tell you that he or she cannot live with his or her roommate because the roommate is the worst kid in the world. But remember, somewhere a kid is calling home and saying the exact same thing about your child.” The thing is; they are right. Eighteen year olds are usually terrible roommates. That’s part of the point of college; learning how to do your own laundry, empty your own garbage, and stock your own fridge. But the path to knowing how to do those things is slow and bumpy.
It’s the same thing in a divorce. Your friends and relatives will only hear your side of the story. What kind of dummy would you have to be to tell everyone you meet that you’re the one at fault? Plus, honestly, divorce is so devastating to everyone’s egos, that we all have to tell ourselves it is the other one’s fault. Just remember, the other guy is saying the same thing about you, and, frankly, the other guy is also right.
People are at their worst during a divorce. Criminal attorneys always say the same thing to us family lawyers: we may represent bad people, but they are on their best behavior with us; you may represent good people, but they are on their worst behavior with you. True.
So, feel free to convince your friends and family that you are right. And, as the friend and family of a divorcing person, tell them they are right. Just remember, you are also wrong.
3. It does not matter whose fault it is. The Presiding Judge of the Stamford,Connecticut Court at one time was Judge Harrigan. I always enjoyed appearing in front of him, because I have only ever seen him be fair, honest, direct, and to the point. In a seminar he was giving once, he told us that it does not matter to the Judge who did what to whom. According to Judge Harrigan, we are all adults, if we didn’t want to be married to a jerk we should not have married a jerk.
You can tell me that people change, and she wasn’t a jerk when I married her, and he lied to me, and everything else. I will tell you that while that may be true in your particular case, there are so many cases in which it is not true, that no judge would believe you anyway.
Besides,Connecticut is one of several “no fault” states. This means that you are free to get a divorce whether or not someone did something wrong. If you want a divorce in these states, you are entitled to one. It’s the law.
4. It is never too late. For what? For a divorce, for a happy life following divorce, for a new start at life. Just because you have waited this long to do whatever it is, does not mean you have to wait any longer.
This advice does not apply exclusively to family law. My father started law school at age 45, after a long successful career as a computer analyst. He has now had his own law firm in town since 1990. And, he was not the oldest student in his class. So, if you think being 35 years old and having to learn how to be single again is hard, you’re right. But it is not impossible, and it is never too late to get started.
5. If someone is in danger, get out now. Figure the rest out later. People stay in untenable situations because it is easier than figuring out a new situation. Usually, who cares? It’s your life and you’ll get out when you are motivated enough. When it comes to a truly dangerous situation, things change. The outcome affects everyone around you, not just you. If you know someone who is in danger, get them out now, ask questions later. If you know that you are putting someone else in danger, do yourself the favor of getting out before it gets worse.
What We Love: Divorce may be a tough process, but you are not the first person to walk this path. With proper guidance and insight the process can be short and sensible.