In a world in which civility is harder to come by, collaborative divorce allows couples to attain civility in divorce, without the rancor that litigation brings.
A couple of years ago, my daughter took a driver’s ed class. The instructor, commenting on a certain impolite hand gesture some frustrated drivers resort to, as being told, “You’re number one.” I laughed at that, but for the first few months my daughter was out on the roads, she was being told that she was “number one” at least once every couple of weeks!
Lately, it seems like I haven’t been able to turn around without being hit in the face with examples of people being rude, bullying, or just plain mean to each other. The current state of our presidential election, kids bullying kids in school, the stuff people post in social media, popular TV shows, and the stories of parents getting carried away at their kids’ baseball games are just a few of a seemingly endless list of the ways this trend is manifesting.
In a recent article I read on our growing incivility, the author cited research suggesting that, because of disgust with the particularly poor state of our current political discourse, many people were actually withdrawing from exercising their voice in our democratic method of governance. Beyond this disturbing trend, one can’t help but wonder how many worthy, qualified, and perhaps even superior candidates have chosen not to seek office because they didn’t want to subject themselves and their families to the inevitably poisonous environment of the electoral process?
What’s causing this erosion of civility? Frustration? Anger? Boredom? Is incivility really on the rise, or has it been there all along, and we’re just seeing it expressed in different, more visible ways?
Does the rise of the Internet, for example, allow people to be uncivil with more anonymity and less consequences? It’s certainly easier to type insults into a computer than to speak those insults directly to someone’s face – is that, in some way, contributing to an atmosphere in which bullying is more of the norm?
In American jurisprudence, people can and often do express incivility through their lawyers. We have a system where “truth” is exposed through the process of confrontation, all while we agree to abide by a system of “civil” procedure. It’s a system that can be highly stressful for the participants and has little regard for people’s feelings and relationships. It’s certainly better than settling disagreements in the streets by dueling it out with pistols or swords, but it’s a process that can be hugely destructive to relationships even after the dispute has been legally resolved.
In divorce and other family law matters, the courthouse can be almost as dangerous and destructive to future family relationships as old-time duels. Of course, the courthouse is a critical part of our functioning in society, needed to keep us from falling into anarchy – but for families, it should be the last resort rather than the first.
Some divorcing couples who have heard the horror stories, and are aware of how terrible court can be resolving disputes, are looking for another way. They realize that how they divorce can be just as or ever more critical than the eventual outcome.
Collaborative divorce gives couples the opportunity to achieve civility in divorce. It doesn’t change the sadness that comes with ending a marriage, but it’s a way to divorce that refuses to reward incivility, bullying and rudeness. The tough issues and the hard questions are dealt with in a spirit of civility, in private, with the focus on problem solving rather than pointing fingers and assigning blame.
Many divorcing couples are tired of fighting, and want to bring some civility and dignity back into their lives. A collaborative divorce is a chance to divorce differently, in a world where civility is becoming harder to come by.
About the author: Julian Schwartz is a San Antonio-based collaborative family lawyer, and a former president of the board for the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas (now Collaborative Divorce Texas).