Go With The Flow

Do you find your outlook changes with your age? I do. In youth, we learn. In age, we understand.

Last year, I turned 50. It is a great age to be! I find that I have a very different view of what is important, and what isn't. This is especially true in my profession, where I see many family conflicts up close and personal. Although I love my work, I am often frustrated to see couples wasting time and money fighting over things that don't really matter.

I once saw a website on divorce that proclaimed "You keep the spatula!" It went on to talk about the financial difference between a contested and uncontested divorce (at least $20,000). This doesn't even begin to count the emotional cost on a family of trying to make one party the villain and the other, the victim. I agree. If your marriage has come to an end, why not wrap things up in as simple a way as possible? Keep your assets and your sanity, and forget about who was "right" or "wrong." There really is no one keeping score.

It's understandable that couples going through a divorce might get lost in their drama, but to me it's unforgivable when an attorney takes advantage of this vulnerability and capitalizes on it by nit-picking about every meaningless detail until the parties' last remaining funds have been drained away. Is this how we serve our clients? Is that the measure of our success?

Personally I think a knock upside the head would be more productive. (Your choice as to whose head.)

I know there are times when a good fight is necessary, or at least a detailed investigation into the parties' assets, if one party is trying to hide them. But to me, when the battle is not about assets but just a power struggle to see who "wins" that round (and both lose the war), then we need to tell our clients as a matter of ethics that we're not going there.

When I work with a lawyer who engages in these destructive confrontations, I think of Jesus' rebuke to the so-called religious experts of his time: "Woe unto you, Pharisees, hypocrites! You strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." I don't pretend to be a biblical scholar. But the words ring true.

A client of mine once shared this phrase with me, "Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change." If we began to take a long view of our life, wouldn't we start to wonder if it's worth arguing about who gets five minutes more, or less, with the children? Or who gets which TV set?

That is why I am such a proponent of the new approach to divorce, called collaborative divorce, where people resolve their issues without going to court. Of course two people whose marriage didn't work won't see eye-to-eye on every issue. But if we as lawyers are skilled enough to guide them through high conflict issues without engaging in ego battles, the results can be amazing.

I recently completed a collaborative divorce case in Southfield, Michigan. At the end, parties and lawyers hugged and thanked each other for their participation in the process. The lawyer for the other client brought up points helpful to my client, and I agreed on points beneficial to hers. Even better, the parties themselves showed a courtesy and respect for each other that created an obvious solidarity. When the process was completed, we knew that their child would benefit for the rest of his life from their disciplined, respectful approach to dissolving their relationship.

If we can begin to implement this in our one-on-one conflicts, just think what we could do on an international basis!

Life is short, folks. Far shorter than previously believed when we were kids. For those of us who believe in reincarnation it may not end, but we don't remember our past lives anyway so for all intents and purposes this is it.

My mother, God rest her soul, was divorced when I was about 13. She never got over it, and for the next 35 years complained about the raw deal she got like it was yesterday. Needless to say, this did not improve the quality of her life, or ours (the children of this divorce).

Marianne Williamson once remarked that global confrontations are nothing more than family skirmishes on a large scale. If we can't even get along with our family, how can we ever get along with other countries, and cultures? The problem is that, the larger the group involved in these conflicts, the greater the possibility for harm. The so-called "holy wars" of the past are a great example. How many people were slaughtered in the name of God?

We are all of us different, and meant to be that way. This means us, as individuals, and us, as a culture. When we learn to respect our differences and allow ourselves to disagree without making anyone "wrong," we begin to exhibit the spiritual maturity we are going to need if our culture, and our planet, is going to survive.

Let's wake up, America. As A Course in Miracles so aptly puts it, "Would you rather be right or be happy?" Let's make the choice for happiness and quit trying to prove ourselves right.

Bruce Lee once said, "Wisdom does not consist of trying to wrest the good from the evil, but rather in learning to ‘ride' them, as a cork adapts itself to the crests and troughs of the waves." Ride with the tide. Go with the flow. Live and be happy.

Mindy L. Hitchcock (Michigan Divorce Attorney)