Divorce: when you’re here, you stop being family

I am going through my first divorce. Make that divorces – yes, multiple divorces –not as a spouse, but as a lawyer, advocate and mediator. In many ways, I recognize that my career is at an interesting place: launching myself into the world of divorce law, but at the same time new to divorce, like many of the clients who come to our firm. I am eager and working hard to catch up on the legal aspects of my job, but, handling the emotional side of divorce? That is the very human side of my job, where I sometimes find myself relating completely to how overwhelmed clients can feel.

One question I’m usually asked by friends and family: “OMG how do you do it? Isn’t it like, so depressing?” I quickly learned that simply tuning out these overly concerned friends, acquaintances, and strangers was impossible. So I crafted what I thought was the best response: “I just try to help people at their worst be their best possible selves.” Most of the time that quick-one liner gets a steady head nod, as if the person suddenly understands everything about my chosen profession.

A few months ago my firm took on a complicated case involving what I like to think of as The Divorce Trifecta: verbal/physical abuse, cheating, and financial secrecy. During our initial consultation my client echoed the sentiments that I hear a lot in my office, “can you believe s/he is doing this to me?!” My clients are constantly shocked by the wrong that is happening to them by someone they once viewed as a trusted member of their family. They have quickly forgotten the old adage “nobody fights like family.”

As an attorney with a special interest in low-conflict resolution I try to remind my clients that at the end of the day family stays family. After all of the fighting and all of the tension you still have to co-parent with this individual. Or you may have to sell your house with the cooperation of this individual. Whatever the “thing” is that binds you to this person you will have to work with them.

Last month after a particularly grueling day in court this client, who is Muslim, told me that every time she speaks to me I help calm her down. She then paused and said, “ah, you are Jewish, right?” when I answered “yes” -admittedly holding my breath a little bit- she said, “And that is why! Because we are cousins. We are family. I pray for peace for both sides.” And just when I thought we were about to have a *moment* she added, “I can eat your food!” I smiled and said that I wished more people thought the way she did, perhaps then the world would be in a less hostile place than it is right now.

Maybe there are phases that people have to go through. Maybe there has to be all of that tension before there can be a calm decision making period. Maybe if more people recognized that if they feel wronged by a family member let them wait until they’re in court in front of a Judge, who is completely unfamiliar with their family dynamic, making decisions for them. Or maybe if more people remembered that the person sitting across from them in the court-room was actually a part of their family at one time then the divorce process would be shorter and perhaps, even less painful for all those involved.

About the Author
Born and raised in the big BK. Rachel is a young attorney trying to make sense of and change the world around her.