Couples can collaborate to smooth the divorce process
By Lloyd Thomas, Ph.D., September 2006
Licensed Psychologist – Life Coach
More than 60 percent of married couples get divorced. Legal divorce is often an emotionally painful, traumatic event usually filled with unresolved conflicts. The divorce process can last for a very long time. The detrimental effects on spouses, children, relatives and friends are abrasive to all relationships.
Regardless of the nature or quality of your martial relationship, the two of you are responsible for creating it. Likewise, couples need to take full responsibility for the quality of divorce. The major factor contributing to the emotional pain of divorce is the way we go about it. The actual decision to dissolve a marriage and live in an “unmarried state” must never be impulsive. The implementation of that decision may not be as problematic as the hurt experienced during the usual conflicts and fights that occur through the legal divorce process itself.
Once the decision is made to divorce, there invariably arise the issues of the fair and equitable division of money, property, future plans and what is in the best interest of any children involved. Not only do divorcing people feel the loss of a primary relationship, they also embroil themselves in fighting over the division of the “martial spoils.” It is that competitive conflict that causes so much emotional scarring.
When people cannot come to a mutually agreeable resolution to the conflicts involved in the divorce process, mediation or legal advice and judgment may be sought.
The conflict of divorce is almost always expanded when attorneys become involved. It is their job to take an adversarial position against the party whom they do not represent. That job inevitably increases the level of emotional pain.
The adversarial system of divorcing rarely works to the satisfaction, let alone the emotional health, of all parties concerned.
What would happen if divorcing couples and their mediators or attorneys approached the divorce process as a collaborative effort? Why can’t two people get divorced without all the animosity, rancor, hurt and fighting?
The answer depends on how the divorcing pair has historically learned to solve conflicts as individuals and as a couple. If they have traditionally viewed conflict as an adversarial process, always with a winner and a loser, the probability is high that they will view their divorce in a similiar fashion.
If they practiced resolving conflicts so that both parties “won,” the divorce process is much less painful. If they are in the habit of using compromise as solutions to fights, divorce may be seen as a loss for both.
A rather new profession has recently emerged – “divorce mediation.” Couples meet separately and then together with a mediator who is trained in both conflict resolution skills and the legal aspects of divorce. The mediator’s primary task is to seek a collaborative solution to the common conflicts surrounding the dissolution of a marital relationship. The mediator is best used after the couple has decided to divorce, and is not intended to help patch things up or alter the decision to divorce.
Most couples have experienced at least a few occasions when they have collaborated with each other to get what they both wanted. After all, they are the ones who created the marital relationship in the first place. That took conscious or unconscious collaboration. Collaboration with each other to divorce is certainly possible. It is psychologically less traumatic than viewing each other as adversaries, even enemies, and behaving accordingly.
The ability to collaborate to design and implement a divorce in the best interests of all concerned needs to replace the current divorce system. Collaboration in divorcing needs to be entirely separate from any abilities a couple may have to make their marriage a mutually satisfying one or different from what it was.
If you are among those 60 percent who have decided to divorce, it may be useful to learn collaboration, seek out a divorce mediator and make the divorce process itself as painless and positive as possible.