A couple of years ago, “Lucy” contacted me for financial assistance with her divorce. She was questioning her attorney and seeking a second opinion. When Lucy came into my office, she brought the spreadsheet her attorney had created that outlined a proposed settlement scenario, and I could fairly easily tell that her legal and financial interests were well represented.
I answered her questions pertaining to spousal maintenance and property division, as well as questions about general financial concepts. But as the hour unfolded, it became evident that she was less interested in listening to me and more interested in having me help her find ways to achieve her notion of justice.
Lucy’s husband had cheated on her several times during the course of their marriage, and she was understandably angry and in a great deal of pain. Her desire was to make him feel pain by engaging in an adversarial process that would cost him a great deal of time, money and embarrassment. She wanted to use the court system as a public forum to air his marital indiscretions. I emphasized that it would cost her a great deal of time and money, probably thousands of dollars, for something that, in the end, would do little to solve her problems.
I told Lucy I thought her attorney was on the right track, and that I wouldn’t be able to help her. As we said goodbye, I suggested she settle amicably and use some of the money she would have spent on an adversarial process to take a trip around the world and start her life anew. I was grateful that this couple did not have minor children.
My interaction with Lucy got me thinking about the concepts of value (as in worth) and values (as in principles). Causing her husband embarrassment had a greater value to Lucy than the thousands of dollars she would potentially spend in achieving her goal. To me, the money I could earn helping Lucy achieve her goals could not compare to the cost to my conscience of doing so. Value and values, however, are personal to each of us.
My own divorce was non-adversarial. My ex-husband and I worked everything out ourselves with the help of a two-hour mediation session. Our co-parenting relationship has been amicable and our 18-year-old son, Liam, is thriving. One afternoon, when Liam was 13, we were driving home when he told me he had forgotten something at his father’s house and asked, somewhat apologetically, if we could go pick it up. I said, “No problem,” to which he responded, “You know, Mom, I don’t feel like I have two separate households.”
That heart-swelling moment clarified for me that nothing in this world holds a greater value than making it possible for my son to identify and achieve his goals and dreams in life. Not being “right,” not achieving a sense of “justice,” and certainly not whether I got my fair share of equity from the sale of the marital home. My ex and I have both had to, and continue to have to, do a lot of letting go of what we each want or what we think is right, in order for Liam to feel like he’s not pulled between two separate households. But, oh what a reward!
Of course, there will always be cases where the adversarial process is important, even necessary. After all, an amicable divorce requires two willing adults. It is, however, my fervent hope that, in divorce cases, particularly those involving children, people are provided with the tools, the roadmap, the opportunity and the encouragement to work through their issues as amicably as possible. Our kids deserve nothing less.