I met this great couple yesterday. I guess I really should not call them a couple since the reason they were in my office was to sign their divorce agreement. Plus, they’ve been separated for a few months now. Nonetheless, they were great together. She is beautiful, serious, hard-working, and stable. He is hilarious, carefree, funny and fun. You can see how they would have been a great complement to each other. You can also see how things could have gone wrong. Finally, they are not the right couple for each other. Their adult employed daughters are 24 and 22 years old. In all, I consider that they have had a successful marriage. I told them so.
Until yesterday I had been working with the two of them via telephone and email. We put together the outline to their agreement the way they wanted it and I was reducing it to writing. The 3 of us needed to sit down together and go over the salient points of the agreement so we can finalize open items, make sure that everything was in compliance with what a court will allow, and hopefully get it signed if possible. I had emailed them my final draft in advance.
The 2 of them walked in together smiling and joking with each other. We sat down in the conference room. The wife pulled out her copy of my draft, neatly marked and tabbed where she had questions. She pulled out a calculator, a pencil, and a notebook. The husband sat next to her, empty hands folded on the table in front of him, just smiling at me.
“Did you both have a chance to review the agreement?” I asked them.
They both nodded.
I turned to the husband, and asked, “Do you have any questions?”
“No,” he said, “my ex-wife read it, so I know its fine.”
He was not being a martyr. He was not being sarcastic. He was not even being stupid, it turns out, because I had done my own due diligence on the matter and it is as fair and reasonable a distribution of assets as any judge would order. He was right. She read it, and it covered both of them.
Now, I am not saying that they are taking the divorce lightly. There is clearly pain in both of their faces when they discuss the efforts they have made to keep the marriage together. They feel that they have failed at something where they wanted to succeed, and that is difficult. They are each disappointed in themselves and each other that divorce is their only remaining option.
BUT, they do not feel the need to make the situation worse by fighting with each other; attacking each other; pitting the kids against each other, or even short-selling each other on the financials. They just want to maintain a friendship in which they can someday attend their daughters’ weddings and hopefully their grandchildren’s birthday parties in peace.
I asked them if I could bottle them. I wanted to be able to take a portion of that affection and good will and pass it along to my other clients; the ones who don’t face this process with the same sanguinity. The husband just chuckled and shrugged. The wife rested her hand on her husband’s shoulder and told me that she will always love him.
No deep thoughts or brave words of wisdom, just two good and kind people letting each other go forward in their lives. All I can say is they were able to preserve enough respect and affection for each other during the rough times of their marriage that there is still plenty left now, at the end, when they need it the most.
Maybe the lesson here is not just for people going through divorce, but even for couples who think they will never divorce. Not every married couple is the right fit. The wife can be her perfect square self, and the husband can be his best round self – if they don’t fit as themselves then they just do not belong together. But that still leaves room for respect and affection and kindness.
Maybe what we can all learn from the man who says, “my ex-wife read it, so I know it’s fine,” is that by creating a foundation of trustworthiness, they are able to trust each other long after they are no longer in love.
What We Love: Don’t squander all of the good will during your marriage – you might need it during your divorce!