Divorce: A Professional’s Personal Story

Divorce doesn’t have to difficult. Alternative Dispute Resolution methods such as Collaborative Divorce can make a painful process easier for anyone.

by Mark C. Hill, Certified Financial Planner, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Managing Director, Pacific Divorce Management

It is not unusual for professionals who work in the divorce field to have been motivated in their choice of career by personal experience of divorce. Sometimes it is the memory of how their parents’ divorce was handled in childhood, while other times it is the experience of their own divorce that drove them to work in the field.

In my own case, it was the experience of my second divorce in the 1990s together with watching others struggle with the process that was the motivation. At first glance, this divorce should have been simple since we had no children and it was a short marriage lasting less than four years. However, it went all the way to an all-day trial that resulted in me saying these words to my attorney at its conclusion: “I feel violated by this process.”

Ironically, a conversation with my ex-wife years later had me learn that she felt exactly the same way that day — despite the fact that we both had very experienced, competent and caring attorneys working on our behalf. Additionally, as a financial advisor since the early 1980s, I had watched clients go through the traditional litigated approach with devastating financial consequences and yet still feeling compelled to share their stories of being disappointed, frustrated and angry at the outcomes.

As the years have passed, on many occasions I have thought back on my court experience and compared and contrasted it with the very different way my first wife and I chose to end our marriage. This was in the early 1980s and our financial and personal situation was very different from my second divorce. Our finances consisted mainly of debt, but we had a child, then a toddler, who we both loved dearly and were determined to be involved in raising.

At the time the concept of alternative dispute resolution when it came to divorce hardly existed in San Diego. But my wife and I both refused to go through the adversarial process. After a conversation with a non-family lawyer friend, I learned there was nothing inappropriate in a couple negotiating their own settlement if they both had full command of the issues involved.

The problem was that initially I could not find a family lawyer willing to work with us and prepare the agreement. Meetings with four lawyers resulted in the same pushback: “I must represent either you or your wife,” they would tell me. Despite this, I kept looking and eventually found a lawyer who did not say “no” fast enough! As a result, we were able to resolve all issues between the two of us and then, after signing disclosures for the attorney saying that she did not represent either one of us, have the Marital Settlement Agreement filed with the court.

Time passed, and by the time my son was attending college I was actively working in the divorce field and felt that the time was right to ask him “How was it growing up for you?” After getting this first comment off his chest, “You and mom are so different, I can’t imagine you guys ever being together!” he said “The good thing was that I never heard either one of you say a bad word about the other and I knew that you both loved me.”

So, despite the fact that his mother and I had challenging times, especially when both of us remarried, we were able to keep his needs above our fray. I doubt that we would have been able to co-parent so successfully if we had been through an adversarial divorce. I feel great relief that there were no children involved in my second divorce as the ending was so toxic that I cannot imagine it not having a negative impact on children.

Divorce is intrinsically difficult because very few marriages end unless trust has been broken, and it will always represents a loss of some kind. Usually we experience this as the loss of personal relationships and of financial resources. I believe that the underlying negative backdrop this provides is more often than not exacerbated by the traditional litigated approach.

Please know I understand there will be cases where avoiding this is impossible, and our court system is critical in attaining resolution. However, where both spouses show a willingness to try to work together, taking the alternative dispute resolution approach will usually result in more durable and better outcomes with less residual bitterness. Additionally, today couples have access to trained professionals in the legal, financial and mental health fields to offer support throughout the process that did not exist for my first wife and me.

As my own experience shows, this can result in better outcomes for our children. Isn’t that really what is most important?

Desensitizing, Brutalizing, And Degrading: Is This the Effect of Divorce Court?

Learn about your Divorce Options at a free workshop on March 4 at 10:30 a.m. in the Carmel Valley area of San Diego. RSVP at 858-472-2022.

by Mark Hill, Certified Financial Planner, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
and Ryan Fentin-Thompson, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Pacific Divorce Management

Divorce can be a dehumanizing experience, especially for children. Avoiding a court battle can help relieve some of the negative effects of divorce on the family.

Divorce can be a dehumanizing experience, especially for children. Avoiding a court battle can help relieve some of the negative effects of divorce on the family.

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.

mark-hill-photo-02One 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.