Transformation Through Transition: Your divorce is more than a spreadsheet

I recently had the opportunity to experience two diverse philosophies during an introductory meeting between myself, another attorney, and our respective divorcing clients. The philosophical approaches to the divorce process were between myself and the other attorney, whom I greatly respect. However, I had to pause when that attorney presented an approach that suggested we handle the dissolution of the marriage “like a business.”

This is where the divergence occurred. While I agree there is certainly business to attend to, such as segregating assets, liabilities, and analyzing income, expenses and overall cash flow, I countered that the parties may also want to consider a more holistic approach to this major life transition than merely reducing the demise of their marriage to nothing more than spreadsheets and financial records. For starters, we could talk about the meaning for each of them behind the numbers. We could identify each party’s needs and wants and interests underneath potential ideas for asset and income distribution. We could seek to support the importance of their successful track record in co-parenting their children by introducing different perspectives on financial support. There was opportunity here to treat this transition as more than a superficial business transaction, if they wanted.

My approach was not meant to discredit the other attorney’s approach in any way, but instead was founded on the premise that we need to take the stigma out of getting divorced and stop pretending that feelings don’t matter – particularly very deep seated feelings and beliefs that may have guided them through their marriage when things were better. Focus on what the parties have done well and apply those strengths to tackling the myriad challenges involved in disentangling their marital financial life.

When parties, and often their lawyers, seek to rush through the mechanics of the divorce process, it is often fueled by the parties wanting to avoid difficult conversations and minimize their discomfort with what is usually a very painful decision by one or both of them to significantly alter their relationship. Why prolong it? Shouldn’t a financial settlement be fairly easy to achieve if one attempts to take the emotions out of it? Yet, this is exactly where the issues arise, when ignored and suppressed emotions often come to light once the parties see the numbers of their life reduced to a spreadsheet and a residential schedule for their children reduced to a detailed Parenting Plan.

It is also easier for lawyers to “treat it like a business” because, unlike therapists, they usually aren’t professionally trained to deal with the emotions of multiple clients at once. Distancing one’s self in this way from clients is often an attempt to avoid the inevitable burnout divorce lawyers will experience otherwise. However, there are many lawyers who appreciate the need for continued education in the areas of client counseling, conflict resolution, conflict coaching, and negotiation skills inspired by something other than traditional position-based bargaining.

For couples and individual clients who tell me they want to maintain their integrity, move through this very difficult time with grace and dignity, while allowing both parties to obtain an outcome that meets their own respective definitions of “fair,” they should  be offered a divorce process that provides the space for a transformation of their relationship to something they can hopefully feel honorable about when they are done.  A spreadsheet is only a glimpse into their story. 

If you’ve reached a decision about separation or divorce, Felicia Soleil can help.  Through her practice, Family Law Resolutions, you can achieve an outcome that fosters both a compassionate ending to your union and a healthy new beginning for you and your family.  Her goal is to help you focus on moving on, rather than simply moving out.  Felicia can be reached at 253-853-6940.  All consultations are strictly confidential.

Published on June 1, 2019