by Mark Hill, Certified Financial Planner, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
and Ryan Fentin-Thompson, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Pacific Divorce Management
Oftentimes, a couple going through divorce is portrayed as angry, revengeful and resentful towards one another. While these feelings may be present we have found that the more prevalent sentiment for both parties is a feeling of sadness and sorrow. Despite any current animosity that may be felt towards one another, no one enters into marriage expecting to divorce, so there will always be some sense of loss.
From the outsider’s perspective, one might assume the hostility between the couple stems from the decision to divorce; however, more often, it is the process of divorce which produces these feelings. The litigation system drives people from sad to furious, furious to enraged, enraged to resentful. Open court is usually the worst place to negotiate the end of an intimate relationship. Not only is this a public forum but also it tends to place the focus on winning and losing which usually does not benefit the whole family.
One example I saw in my own practice was in a highly contested divorce where both husband and wife wanted to keep the family home. Since they could not reach agreement, the judge ordered the house sold, which had the result of taking the children away from their friends and requiring them to change schools based upon their parents’ new residency.
Even the best judges seldom have time to do more than render strictly legal based decisions which lack the creativity which families always need when facing divorce. I was struck by a recent TV commercial related to our current presidential election using the tagline “Our children are watching,” and thought how it also relates to divorce. Offspring of divorcing couples always learn a lot about relationships from how their parents behave throughout the process. My experience is that choosing the adversarial approach seldom improves such behavior.
It can be dehumanizing for the professionals involved as well. Most people go into this field from a desire to help families work through what is usually an incredibly difficult life event. Too often, we find the system forcing decisions that we know will not fit the needs of our clients. It undermines what motivates us to do this work and can distance us from our own sense of humanity and compassion. We in the field have all experienced cases where outcomes fall well short of what our hopes and expectations were at the point at which we were retained. Recent research has suggested divorce professionals pay an ongoing price for this, described as “vicarious trauma.”
Alternative dispute resolution allows many of the shortcomings of a traditional divorce to be addressed. Professionals are required to look for creative solutions that benefit the entire family rather than trying to advance the cause of one side. The clients are engaged and required to take responsibility for the decisions that are reached. In the case of Collaborative Divorce they do so with the resources of legal, financial, and mental health professionals together with them at the table. We have found that this provides the best opportunity for outcomes that avoid much of the negativity usually associated with divorce.