You can find the good in a divorce. My background and experience don’t suggest that divorces are great. I personally went through a horrible divorce, which took about three years. When I was a kid, my parents got divorced and that was horrible. I’ve been a divorce attorney for 22 years now and have seen a lot of sides to divorce. You get what you look for, though, so I thought I would share five things that can help you to find the good in a divorce.
1. Divorce Can End at Any Time
Divorces can end at any time. People think that divorces are this long, horrible, five year process and it’s going to cost you everything you have while tearing your family apart. Unfortunately, that can be the truth for some cases, but it doesn’t need to be. I think the misconceptions that people bring into divorces often cause them to go into that kind of direction. I tell all my clients that there are four reasonable people – two reasonable clients and two reasonable lawyers – you can settle a divorce case in 15 minutes. The law favors settlements. Judges prefer settlements. You can settle your case by sitting in a conference room on a weekend with your attorney if he or she works on weekends. The court will bring you in as soon as you tell them the cases are settled – courts usually take settled cases first so you’re not sitting around. As a result, you save a lot of time and a lot of money. The whole process is geared towards settlement, but I don’t think a lot of people recognize that and don’t understand that they control the entire process from the very start.
2. Court of Equity
There are two main types of courts in New Jersey:
- Courts of Law: These are courts that were first formed in our nation and they definitely dealt with what we consider black letter law. So if a statute said X, Y and Z, you had to do X, Y and Z. If your contract had five terms, you had to comply with the five terms.
- Courts of Equity: These courts grew grew out of the inability of the law to really address fairness under certain circumstances. So it started to expand and move away from your black letter law. So they started to deal with greater rights and righting the wrong. A maxim for equity is you must come with clean hands.
Divorces are in courts of equity. The example I always give to explain what a court of equity does that differs from a court of law is an example I got in law school about building a pool. Let’s say you’re a homeowner and you see that somebody is coming and building a pool in your backyard. You didn’t ask for it. You didn’t contract for it, but you watched them build it. The pool is tremendous and increases your house value significantly. The person who built the pool comes and says “I wanna get paid $50,000. It’s my cost and labor for what I did.” Now, under court of law, you’d say “Forget it. You didn’t have a contract. I’m not paying you anything.” But now you’ve received a tremendous burden, quite possibly through an honest mistake. A court of equity says that shouldn’t be the case – one person shouldn’t be unjustly enriched, even if it was a mistake or at least one person shouldn’t be greatly harmed.
In a case like this, the court would construe that you have a contract, just through actions and through estoppel. You can’t deny it because you saw it, you recognized it was being done, you know that there was a benefit to it, and you didn’t stop it. The court of equity is going to right that wrong and impose a contract on you to pay for it. That’s what family court has.
I provide this example so you can understand that when you go into a family court, they have much broader powers to do things that the law might say shouldn’t be done. Maybe the agreement that you have doesn’t compel you to do it, but the court is going to do it anyway. Now, that doesn’t necessarily turn out to be a good thing – it depends on where you’re standing on that side of an agreement. Since divorce proceedings occur in a court of equity, they’re not bound by the black and white letter of the law. They’re bound by what’s fair.
3. You Really Get to Learn Who Your Spouse Is
In a divorce, you really get to learn who your spouse is. Now usually you think you know that person, but believe me, you often encounter a very different person when you get into a divorce litigation. I always say when somebody tells you or shows you who they are, believe them. Divorce litigations may be the first time you really get to see the heart of somebody that you’re dealing with. This isn’t necessarily always a good thing, but it’s good to learn that and to be in a position where you can affect change from that. A lot of people will say “It’s not me.” They’ll blame their lawyers for their bad conduct in a divorce and that’s just never acceptable. We, as lawyers, are the agent of our clients. We’re not doing anything that our clients haven’t authorized. Now, they may not fully understand the process or the steps that we’re taking, but you can never say that a step was done against the client’s will by his or her lawyer. It just doesn’t work that way. The lawyer is always licensed by the client to do it. If your adversary is blaming his or her lawyer, tell them that’s incorrect and it’s time to get a new lawyer then, if that’s really the case.
4. Opportunity to Address and Fix Problems
In a divorce, you have an opportunity to address and fix problems. Most of the time, you’re coming to get a divorce for some horrible reason, not necessarily just a decline in the relationship. People come for a divorce when they’re having significant financial problems and they may not have even known about it. One or both of you may have significant drug or alcohol addiction issues. There could be mental issues that are surfacing. It’s very challenging to address these problems in an intact family. Day-by-day, you’re trying to make things work, or you’re overlooking things so that you can keep the peace. You might have responsibilities such as raising children. All these things compound addressing these very significant issues, and more often than not, they issues are not addressed. These issues, specifically financial, addiction, and mental issues, tend to get worse. Getting into a divorce and flushing these issues out gives you a chance to identify them and to address them, hopefully while they’re still in some manner of control for you.
5. A Fresh Start
The last great thing about getting a divorce is that it is really a fresh start. Divorces are often initiated when things are their very worst. Most people that I’ve encountered will put in everything they can in order to make their marriage work. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean a couple tried for 20 years – I’ve had people come to me after 20 days and ask to get a divorce. Either way, the situation got to the point where you couldn’t take it anymore.
People say things like, “It’s cheaper to keep her.” It’s not. It’s never cheaper to keep her. Rarely are you going to have a circumstance where you’re paying more in alimony or legal fees than you were paying to support your spouse. Even if it seems that way, it’s not. Support is almost never higher than what the cost of maintaining your household would have been. When you’re married, the spouse has entitlement to everything that you have. Even though you may be giving up half of your retirement account, if you remained married, your spouse would have received all of your retirement account, both in having access to it and if you were to unfortunately pass. It’s never cheaper to stay in a horrible situation. People like to justify it that way because it’s more comfortable.
You Get What You Look For – Find the Good
Now obviously these five things aren’t going to apply to everybody and I understand that divorces are not necessarily a great thing for each situation. I do believe, though, that you get what you focus on. If you go into your divorce expecting that there is going to be something good that comes from it, then you’ll get something good from it.