The Door To Divorce Court
This article was published in the Chicago Now section of the Chicago Tribune (circa 2011) as part of the Kulerski & Cornelison “The Way We War” series of articles.
Similar to logs traveling downriver, divorce cases drift aimlessly along in our legal system for a year or two until they form a logjam that bumps into the narrows of the courthouse door. The divorce you have long waited suddenly becomes terrifying.
The many months of posturing is now replaced by a mad scramble to settle before the trial starts, or preparing for a trial that, statistically, at least, is not going to take place (over 90% of all divorce cases settle before trial, with many getting settled on the eve or morning of trial).
Stepping through those courtroom doors signifies helplessness, your bargaining power is at an all-time low; you are about to let a stranger make decisions that are life changing. Historically, we do not get serious about trying to reach an out of court settlement until the divorce is reaching its final stages. Until recently, and to our collective loss, our focus is not on trying to achieve a settlement during the beginning of the process.
Our divorce legal system is adversarial, and our thesaurus associates the word “adversarial” with opposing, intimidating, hostile, antagonistic, menacing, frightening, nail-biting, and bloodcurdling.
The emotional upheaval of divorce is bad enough, and the adversarial aspect makes it worse. It causes the parties to compete, and competitors do not comprise. They posture and fight.
People in competition are out to prove they are right and the other party is wrong. Meeting their adversary halfway is out of the question. This mindset is the villain; it produces a downward retaliatory cycle that depletes good will and pocketbooks.
By this time that trial draws near, the parties have likely spent more of their spirit, energy, and money than they ever thought possible.
We would be wise to concentrate on resolving our differences early on, and this is where mediation, collaborative law, and cooperative divorce law come in. These are anti-war settlement models that create a non-confrontational climate in which and early settlement may take a place. They suppress the parties’ inclination to complete, and they make settlement a priority, just as the courthouse door does.
Competitors focus on winning and, quite simply, there are no winners in a divorce battle. Both parties lose. The legal system cannot give us more than we have when we enter it. No matter what we have when we enter the system, we leave with less. And this is before the lawyers get a dime.
There may be honor in war, but there are always innocent casualties as well. The best military strategists are the ones that use diplomacy rather than guns. The greatest battles in history are the ones never fought. Your divorce can be a bloody battlefield, or it can be a peace treaty negotiated by sensible diplomats.
Those courtroom doors are the entrance to the battlefield, do you really want to walk through them?