I regularly speak with people who are not prepared to proceed with a divorce but want information about divorce. They want to know about issues involving child custody, child support, spousal support and property division. I always describe the different approaches - divorce in court, collaborative divorce and mediation – and the benefits of each approach. I often find that in the discussion about the approaches clients often come to a deeper understanding of what divorce is - and what it isn’t.
I had a recent conversation with a woman that illustrated this perfectly. She was looking for some basic information about divorce, but also told me the struggles involved in her marriage. She had small children and had put her career on hold. It was clear that she had made many personal sacrifices in her marriage in order to support it. Her story was compelling.
I explained to her that mediation and collaborative practice are focused on reaching mutually acceptable resolutions to a divorce. Her response was telling: Hadn’t she already made enough sacrifices in their marriage? Did she have to make any more compromises and sacrifices in divorce?
This question got right down to the core issue – is divorce a time to compromise or a time to be uncompromising? For this woman, the answer was obvious. Having children meant that she and her husband were bound together for a life time, even if the marriage ended. Faced with a lifetime of working with one another the next question that needed to be addressed was whether their future would be filled with communication, collaboration and compromise OR a lifetime of unending conflict.
My advice to her was to be grateful if the potential exists to collaborate and compromise with her husband in a divorce, because not everyone has this ability. She should do what she can to strengthen and promote that potential. But she also needed to hear that compromise isn’t the same thing as sacrifice.
Compromise is defined as giving up one thing for another. Sacrifice means giving things away for nothing. She could still look out for her own interests and resolve issues through compromise.
Some say that a good marriage is all about compromise. Surprisingly, so is a good divorce.