I was thinking about success and failure, marriage and failure, and our propensity for labeling divorce as failure. We also like to label marriages that end in divorce as failures. These labels are both inaccurate and judgmental.
If you ask me, the real failure is the institution of divorce itself. Even worse, it is the divorce industry that fails too many of us, with fallout that goes on to negatively impact our lives for years.
We Know We Need Divorce
Do marriages have ups and downs? We know they do.
Do some degrade to a point where they are no longer tolerable? Certainly.
Are there heart-wrenching decisions that feel like lose-lose when a marriage explodes or peters out, especially if there are children involved?
Are you nodding your head?
Too many of us have lived that sorry scenario. There is no “good” answer for all involved, only answers that we decide we will have to live with, along with the determination to rebuild as best we can.
Sure, there are times when a couple decides together that ending the marriage is the only way, and they work together to accomplish this in the most equitable fashion possible — sensitive to the needs of the family. But what about situations when one spouse decides that divorce is the way to go, and the other may find himself or herself caught off-guard?
What follows can be miserable — a process and its aftermath that takes longer, costs more, and wreaks more havoc than ever imagined.
How the Divorce Industry Falls Short
Examples of how the Divorce Biz and institutions fail us?
- Attorneys that drag on cases by commission or omission
- Hourly rates that are exorbitant and send us spiraling into debt
- Unnecessary encouragement of adversarial attacks, delays, obfuscation (wear down your opponent / win at all cost)
- Insufficient guidance as to who to talk to (talk to a counselor or therapist about your psychological state, and your attorney about your legal procedures)
- Insufficient guidance on options and potential recourse in the future
- Inability to enforce support agreements (without time, counsel and funds)
- Loopholes in those agreements
- Overworked or underqualified judges
- State-specific systems that are unequal in application of what logically ought to be a single set of standards
- The reality that He With the Deepest Pockets wins… certainly for many of us
Naturally, there are scrupulous individuals who do not exploit others and who exercise their responsibilities honorably. But we are often at our most vulnerable when our marriages are breaking apart, and for women — no this isn’t a dig to the dads — we may be easily swayed when faced with posturing or bluffing threatens the welfare of our children.
My Story. What’s Yours?
While I wasn’t young when I married, looking back I see that in some ways I was woefully naive. To say that my husband and I had discordant expectations in marriage is an understatement, though I was unaware of it until after we had our first child. I was equally naive when it came to divorce: My spouse’s opening gambit in divorce, to my shock and horror, would have potentially put my children into an untenable position. As a consequence, though my (first) attorney said the probabilities were in my favor, I couldn’t take the chance of anything that would put my little ones at greater emotional risk. They were already hurt and bewildered by what was happening, and I was numb and distraught from the actions that had led up to walking into court.
Subsequent maneuvers made it clear that I was right to take that overly cautious stance — for some, every conflict is about winning at all cost — but the very fact that an attorney advised my eventual ex to use it as a ploy, potentially putting my boys at risk, is unconscionable. The die was cast literally from that first chess move, and worsened exponentially by my lack of funds to fight back and the incompetence of my attorney. Though he came recommended, when I could no longer deny his inability to perform as needed, I was forced to find a replacement a year later, when I was already deeply in debt and emotionally exhausted.
It Isn’t Just About Divorce; It’s About Everything After
In the years that followed (as regular, periodic problems persisted between my ex and myself), I was given hope that I might have legal recourse, and then that hope was dashed. This occurred over and over, with a constant drain on my time, my energies, and of course my pocket book. I attempted to follow the rules in order to fight for monies that were rightfully due to us — as a matter of survival for our little family unit — only to be thwarted at every turn. This played out in one form or another for nearly a decade. Is it any wonder that I feel as if divorce and its aftermath have changed me irrevocably?
The consequences to my career, my health, and my trust in our institutions were significant. It has been a slow, arduous, and lonely climb back, with rewards along the way — those life lessons learned — and losses from which I will never recover.
This isn’t about victimhood; I am not a victim. This isn’t even about blame, though I do believe in identifying root causes. And the first step to finding solutions to complex problems is being honest about the issues. Then, we need to explore realistic remedies to address them.
Where Do We Put Our Feelings of Failure?
I would be lying if I said I saw no failings in the way I conducted myself in marriage. I can look back and see both timing and incidents when I would’ve been better served to speak differently, to act differently, or not to speak or act at all. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.
I do not “blame” myself for divorce. Nor do I “blame” the man I married. In fact, to the surprise of some, I harbor far more resentment toward the Divorce Industry than toward my ex, who simply availed himself of all the offensive weapons at his disposal, not to mention the system’s numerous deficiencies.
Believe me, I am not excusing his behavior — far from it — but the failure we should be discussing is systemic, not individual; it is institutional, not personal. I wonder just how many divorce and post-divorce war stories are the result not of the failure of a couple to make a marriage work or even to make a divorce work, but of a society that doesn’t want to rethink the complexity of its institutions.