Drawing On My Family’s Painful Divorce Experience to Help My Clients Avoid The Same

Why did you choose to be a divorce lawyer?

This is a common question people ask me, and the answer I commonly give is that I initially wanted to work in an area where I could litigate and work with people — as opposed to working with corporations or parcels of land. Family law seemed like a good fit for that. I eventually realized that litigation wasn’t the right path for me or my clients. I’m not so much a fighter as I am an advocate. And that’s why I left litigation behind and moved to collaborative law and mediation. That’s the short answer.

The long answer is a bit more complicated, and has its roots in my childhood. Growing up, it was plain to see that my father and mother had an unhappy marriage. The pain and the sadness was palpable. From the time I was 12 or 13 years old I was regularly asking my mother “If you’re so unhappy, why don’t you just get divorced?”

It was not until I was in college that they started talking about divorce and when I was in my junior year of college, while I was settling into a semester abroad in Denmark, that my mother answered my question. While I was talking to her on the phone in the hallway of my dorm, she said, “I’ve left your father. I’ve moved out.”

As it turns out, my mother and father had been working with divorce lawyers to come to a settlement agreement and my father was supposed to be the one to move out, but he kept stalling and then refused to follow through. My mother couldn’t take it anymore, so on a day when she knew my father would be out of the house, she moved out without telling my father she planned to do so. She had quickly packed up her belongings with the help of friends and family, hired movers and headed across town to a new home she had rented. She broke the news to my 14-year-old brother that afternoon and had my 20-year-old sister wait for my father at the house to be there when he got home. To put it mildly, this was not a good plan but my mother was desperate to be separated from my father and this was the only way she thought she could make it happen.

When I heard all of this my heart broke. I thought about my father coming home to an “empty” house. I thought about the frustration, fear and anxiety that my mother must have been feeling as she had planned her secretive move. I thought about my brother and sister being put in the middle of the chaos. And there was nothing I could do about any of this as I was in the middle of my once-in-a-lifetime experience of being in a foreign country for a semester abroad.

My parents were eventually able to negotiate an agreement and they basically kept my siblings and me out of the details of the negotiations (thankfully). In the end, my mother kept her business and my father kept the family home and rental property.

That seemed fair on paper, but my father told me sometime later that he felt “raped” by my mother. He “agreed” to this division of property but he wasn’t happy about it. He had suffered from depression in the past and now it came back with full force. Over the next year he basically stopped doing anything. He stopped going to work, he stopped paying the mortgage on both homes, and he eventually filed for bankruptcy. He wasn’t alone because my brother was living with him, but even that was a less-than-ideal situation because my parents had let my brother choose who to live with and of course he picked my father, who let him do whatever he wanted. The novelty of that eventually wore off and, within a year, my brother was living with my mother.

Even though my parents came to an agreement out of court, it wasn’t done well. Not only did my little brother get bounced around, and not only did my father lose everything he received in the divorce, but my father also did everything he could to avoid looking at my mother for at least 10 years. At my sister’s wedding, he refused to be in photographs with my mother. When that same sister had a child, she would edit my mother out of photos before she would send them to my father. We all knew it was ridiculous for her to enable my father in this way, but even adult children get pulled into the middle of divorce and do what they can to make both parents happy.

During those 10 years, we had all requested of my dad that he rejoin the family at one point or another. I remember saying “Dad, I’m not saying you need to call Mom and be friends, but if there’s an event that comes up in the future I’m requesting that you be a part of our family again.” Two years later, my mother’s mother died and my father, without being asked said, “I’m coming.” He flew up from Florida where he was then living, he came to the funeral, he spent time in my grandparents’ house after the wake, and he was at the church and cemetery. We had lost my grandmother, but we got my father back. And that was that. For all future major family events, we didn’t have to worry about how to deal with parents fighting a cold war.

Unlike my sister who had to coordinate her wedding photos to make sure our parents were separated, when my other sister and I got married, both of my parents walked us down the aisle and we were completely able to feel their mutual love for us rather than their anxiety about having to be so close to the other.

So why did I become a divorce lawyer? If I can help it, I don’t want other families to go through what my family went through. It’s a waste of time. It hurts. Everyone’s in pain. When parents divorce badly, it can last for generations. If they divorce well, that can last for generations too. I want to do whatever I can to help my clients divorce well and for their children to have much different divorce stories than mine.

If you want help divorcing well contact us.