NEW WAYS TO SURVIVE DIVORCE The marriage counselor saw Karen and Tom as “two nice, intelligent people who don’t have enough in com- mon”, a view that most of their friends already shared. One or the other had to change drastically to make the marriage work out. And that just wasn’t going to happen, Karen decided after a few counseling sessions. So she told Tom that she wanted a divorce. He was reluctant, feeling that they hadn’t given the counseling process enough of a chance, but finally agreed. It was going to be a sensible divorce, they said, having seen enough horrible examples of divorcing couples locked in legal warfare to want to avoid all -that. They easily agreed on custody their two young children would live with Karen and see Tom on weekends and during summer vacations. They didn’t expect the financial settle- ment to be much of a problem, either, since they both wanted to be fair. The trouble was that Tom insisted on selling their house, and Karen was determined to keep it. Tom argued that the house was their major investment and had appreciated considerably in value, so it made sense to sell and take the profit. On the other hand, Karen felt strongly that it was important for the children to stay in familiar surroundings; the divorce would be unsettling enough for them. “Too bad you didn’t think of that before,” Tom said, sarcastically, which made her furious. So she said ... The dispute led to such stormy scenes that Karen, shaken, went , back to the marriage counselor for advice. “I don’t want this to happen and I don’t think Tom does,, either. What can we do about it ?” At the counselor’s suggestion, they tried mediation. After four meetings with the mediator, they reached a compromise solution which involved selling the house and Tom’s helping Karen to buy a smaller, easier-to-keep house in the same neighborhood. This satisfied them both, and they were able to get through the divorce without becoming mortal enemies and to start their new relationship as divorced parents in a promising way. “Mediation gave us the structure we needed to stop fighting and start thinking things through,” Karen said. “The mediator was very helpful. But something about having a third person there was calming in itself. Like a cool hand on a feverish brow. “Tom agreed that mediation worked in their case. “But Karen always exaggerates. “ Tom never likes anything.“ They’ll probably be better off apart. Karen and Tom’s story illustrates, in a simplified way, one of two methods increasingly being used to help peo- ple survive divorce in fairly good shape: divorce counseling and mediation. They are part of a trend that began with no-fault divorce laws (now in force in every state except Illinois and South Dakota) to simplify laws and procedures, keep custody and financial disputes out of court whenever possible, and find ways to make divorce less expensive and emotionally damaging to all concerned. Divorce is very difficult for most people. There are some who are able to take it casually, walking away from a marriage as they would an unsatisfactory summer job, but not many. The death of an important relationship always comes hard. Except for the rich, divorce means an immediate lowering of living standards, if not real financial hardship. It means loneliness, loss, and a storm of strong feelings to cope with; hurt, anger, fear, grief. Almost everyone go- ing through a divorce is emotionally off balance. Parents are haunted by fears of what the divorce will do to their kids. In the midst of all this turmoil, vital decisions -- about money, property, and what’s best for the children -- have to be made. It’s not easy. But there are more choices now than there used to be; ways to get help, and resolve disputes. “When divorce was considered a calamity, you were expected to suffer and keep quiet about it,” said a woman who’s been divorced twice. “Now that it’s an ordinary occurrence, people are able to see divorce for what it is. A human problem, like many others.” Divorce counseling. This often begins at the point where hope for the marriage ends. Dr. Katherine Evans, marriage and divorce counselor at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky, observed that “marriage counselors are more honest today. In the old days, they tried to keep the couple together. Now we say, “If you’ve already decided that divorce is the only answer, let’s try to deal with it, so we can diminish feelings of guilt and hostility.” “It’s hard,” she said, “when one person is determined to get a divorce and the other wants desperately to hold on. There’s not much the counselor can do, except help the unwilling one accept the reality of the situation. Mar- riage won’t work unless both partners want it to. “People should give themselves time to get over a divorce. It takes about two years. Right after the divorce, many go through a second adolescence; they want new clothes, new faces, trips ... it’s party time! in a way, this is healthy. But people can get into serious financial trouble if they don’t watch out. “Divorce isn’t always a disaster. It can be a positive step. People change. Sometimes the couple simply married too young, when their judgment was immature, and it didn’t work out. That’s not failure. That’s life.” Divorce counseling has two main goals; helping couples to identify and deal with their feelings during divorce in a nondestructive way, and to understand what went wrong in the marriage, and why. Without this kind of understanding, it’s likely that they will repeat the same patterns in their next marriage, with the same miserable results. (Helen, for example, who divorced her alcoholic husband and then married a man who couldn’t hold a job.) Or they will be so crippled by bitterness and unresolved conflicts that they can’t get over the divorce and move on. Lillian was one of the bitter ones. “I hated Jack for walking out on me,” she said. “All I could talk about was what a total bastard he was. I was full of threats. Finally, I said to the counselor, ‘I guess you think I’m terrible, talking this way.’ And she said, ‘No. I think you’re scared to death.’ And she was right. I wasn’t happy with Jack. But I was afraid that I couldn’t make it on my own. Working that out was my salvation.” Jeanette married when she was 19 and had to face life alone, with a baby, when she was 21. “Ed and I weren’t ready for marriage,” she said. “Counseling got me through a tough time. It made me see that I was in love with Ed’s family, not him. He had a big, jolly family and they were all friendly and joked a lot. And I was a lonely kid. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. But next time I’ll be sure it’s the man I want, and not his rela- tives.” Mediation. This can be used to settle disputes, or to work out a complete divorce settlement. It’s an alternative to the traditional adversary legal process where the husband and wife each hire a lawyer to represent their inter- ests and, if agreement is not reached, fight it out in court. Court battles can be very expensive, time-consuming and unpleasant, and the results often satisfy no one. “Few people remain reasonable when forced into a fight,” George Bushnell, a well-known lawyer in Detroit, Michi- gan, commented. “The adversary approach in divorce cases can create problems that didn’t exist, or worsen problems that did.” (There’s the story of Anne and Richard, to illustrate. Their she refused to give him his l0- speed bike. In a rage, he repudiated the whole deal and they eventually went to court --The Case of the $10,000 Bicycle, one lawyer called it.) In mediation, the husband and wife work out a detailed agreement on custody and financial settlement with the help of a mediator. The mediator, who is trained to clarify issues, identify alternatives and keep discussions on the track, has no power to settle anything. He or she functions as a neutral observer and consultant. The husband and wife must agree on all decisions. (Mediation is sometimes confused with another method of settling disputes and one occasionally used in di- vorce cases. Mediation is voluntary, arbitration is not; the arbitrator hears both sides of the issue and then makes a decision, which must be accepted. Arbitration is most often used to settle specific disputes that require special- ized knowledge.) Two glimpses of mediation at work: Melissa and her husband had already agreed on child custody but knew they needed help with a complicated fi- nancial settlement; they decided to try mediation to save money. “I talked to a lawyer friend first,” Melissa said, and asked for an informal estimate of costs. It was three times the amount we paid for mediation.” The medi- ator’s review of their financial assets was thorough and painstaking. “We had to make lists of all community property, have new appraisals, put a price tag on everything and explain our positions on who should have what. I was the one who wanted the divorce so I was feeling guilty and in no mood to argue about money. Ann -- the mediator -- would say. ‘Come on, Melissa, there’s no reason to give away the store.’ Her goal was a settlement that would work so well, we could look back ten years later and feel we both got a good deal. It’s been only two years now, but we -do feel that way. And another thing -- there was much less bickering and petty stuff than there was during my first divorce.” Judy and Paul used mediation to settle many differences between them. From the start, Paul had a lot to say about his love for his two young sons; he had not been close to his own father, he explained, so he had to be sure of a continuing relationship with the boys. On her part, Judy wanted to agree to have the boys on Sundays, and for one weekend every other month. During their separation, Paul had been dropping in to see the boys at irregular intervals, and Judy didn’t want this practice to continue. She had to know when the boys would be visiting their father, she said, so she could make plans of her own. Paul resisted that idea, saying that having the boys was great, but he didn’t like being told what to do, and when. It became clear to the mediator that Paul didn’t much want the children, inspite of his protestations. Then, in a private meeting, Paul told the mediator that he thought it would be good for Judy to marry again. And very much in Paul’s interest, the mediator pointed out, since his support payments would be reduced. But how would she be able to meet anybody if she never had any free time? Paul thought that over and then agreed to Judy’s proposal at their next meeting. Their other differences were more easily settled. There are obvious advantages to mediation. One is the emphasis on cooperation and compromise, rather than conflict and a win or lose approach to issues, which makes for a better relationship between the divorcing couple; this is particularly important when children are involved. It gives the couple the power to make their own decisions; as a general rule, any agreement worked out by the parties involved is best, and most likely to be kept. Finally, mediation is less expensive; 10 to 20% of the cost of a contested divorce case, according to one estimate. Twelve states now have so& form of court-connected mediation; Dr. Stephen J. Bahr, a professor of family relations at Brigham Young, University in Provo, Utah, and author of a recent study on divorce me- diation, estimated that such services nationwide could save taxpayers $9.6 million per year in court costs, and divorced people $88.9 million per year in legal fees. Still, the use of mediation is controversial. Ann Diamond, an attorney specializing in family law in Marin County, California, uses mediation only in selected cases. “Financial settlements have become much more com- plicated since no-fault divorce laws went into effect,” she said. “People must understand what their rights are. If those rights aren’t exercised during the divorce proceedings, they can never be regained. The mediator has to stay in the middle, and can’t take the side of the person who may be intimidated.” There is general agreement that mediation won’t work across the board. Dr. Theodore Meth, a mediator who’s also a minister, an attorney and law professor At Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, said that “mediation works best with middle-income people who’ve had some counseling experience and are concerned about the welfare of their dependant children.” He added that “the poor usually don’t have anything to mediate and the rich need a small army of experts.” Dr. Ken Kressel, a professor of psychology at Rutgers, who has done some mediation work but is primarily in- terested in research on the subject, described the kind of couples must likely to benefit from mediation this way: 1. “Direct conflict couples”. They have a history of fighting and are still at it. But they have some insight and fight openly, about matters of importance. (Not over custody of the chenille bedspread and other trivia.) 2. “Disengaged couples”. They have both lost interest in the marriage and want to get it over with. (“The only trouble is that they may reach agreement too hastily, and not take time to do things right. “) Then there are the types who wouldn’t do well with mediation: 1. “Entangled couples”. They’re bitter and angry but they can’t let go, and feel ambivalent about the divorce, They don’t have a good word to say about each other but, it often turns out, are still sexually involved. 2. “Autistic couples”. Here the decision to get a divorce was made by one partner, with little or no dis- cussion with the other; this reflects the way they’ve always operated. (“Mediation is based on honest and direct communication, and that’s what they’re most afraid of.”) Dr. John M. Hayes, who’s mediated more than 300 divorce cases, agreed with the above assessment. “I’ve seen those ‘autistic’ couples in action -- they talk to a point just beyond the other’s left shoulder.” (Dr. Hayes teaches at the School of Social Welfare. State University of New Pork at Stony Brook, and is the author of a recently published book on divorce mediation.) He doesn’t agree with those who say that mediation can be a risky proposition for people who are passive, eas- ily dominated, or not financially astute. “A good mediator can compensate in those cases; it takes longer, that’s all. The mediator doesn’t work in isolation from the rest of the world; I always tell people they’re free to consult a lawyer at any time. And I advise them to have the final agreement reviewed by a lawyer or an accountant. “The mediator’s goal is to help the couple produce a fair, workable agreement that doesn’t victimize anybody involved. Of course, that’s not always possible. In one case, the husband wouldn’t produce all the financial data I asked for. I warned him about this twice and then I advised his wife, in front of him, to get a lawyer who would compel full disclosure since the husband obviously wasn’t going to do it on his own. “In another case, a young couple came in with everything settled; the wife would take the baby and go back to her family-- emotionally, she’d never left -- and the husband would give up all rights to the child. In exchange, he would be asked to make only token support payments, and it was pretty clear he wouldn’t even have to do that, as long as he stayed out of the picture. I told them that I couldn’t be a party to such an agreement, since it deprived the child of her right to have a father. I tried to get all the issues out for discussion, but their minds were made up, so I withdrew from the case.” Both counseling and mediation are included in new programs that offer divorcing couples a combination of services. One example is called “Civilized Divorce”, a program planned and directed by Dr. Walter Ambinder, a lawyer and clinical psychologist, and Dr. Sandra Lyness, a clinical psychologist. (They are co-directors of the Midwestern Educational Resources Center, a private clinic in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, and both teach psychology at Wayne State University in Detroit.) This program begins with a “road map to divorce’’ -- a detailed account of what the couple can expect to hap- pen as the divorce programs --and includes counseling for the couple and their children, mediation of custody and financial disputes, if necessary, and legal handling of the divorce. It ends with counseling sessions on what’s involved in building a new life, and problems that are likely to occur. Dr. Ambinder: “Few divorces are really mutual, at least not in the beginning. One wants out, and the other is reluctant. It’s usually over when you hear one person say, ‘I just don’t feel anything anymore. ‘ The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Hate means there’s still a strong connection.” Dr. Lyness: “If your marriage is in trouble, and you think it’s all your spouse’s fault, or -- the other side of the same false coin -- it’s all your fault, you’re not seeing the situation realistically. “The trouble with talking about love is that it means such different things to different people. The basic ingre- dients of a good marriage are affection and respect. Without that, you don’t have much to work with.” They wanted a divorce. After I filed the complaint, they called it off. Several things happened, I think. One was that they were learning to communicate better. And they got a sample of what divorce was going to mean -- disrup- tion of a pretty comfortable life, loneliness, financial worries. In comparison, their problems didn’t look so bad. So I turned the diploma over and we went into marriage counseling instead.” Others reported similar experiences. “When it happens, you always hope the reconciliation works, “ one me- diator said. “They often do. I had a couple recently who were getting a divorce because the husband had a girl friend and the wife was devastated. Time went by; she was still hurt, but it, wasn’t the end of the world. And the husband had found out, in the meanwhile, that six months with the girl friend was all he could stand.” Those who work with divorce cases often warn against what they call “accidental divorce”. This can happen when people habitually threaten divorce every time they’re angry or upset with their spouse; like children play- ing with matches, it’s a dangerous game. “The first responsibility of anyone dealing professionally with di- vorce,” lawyer George Bushnell said, “is to try and determine whether the person really wants a divorce, or is signaling for some other kind of help. It follows that it’s the responsibility of anyone bent on divorce to consider, one last time, if divorce is the only possible solution. Dr. Aline Doctoroff, a clinical psychologist in Birmingham, Michigan, who often sees divorcing parents in- volved in custody disputes, thinks that many marriages could be saved. “But it’s so easy to see someone else as the cause of all your troubles. And so wrong, most of the time. “If only husbands and wives could see themselves as clearly as they see each other! For instance, I’ll ask a woman to describe herself. She’ll look startled, laugh a little and then say something vague. Like ‘I don’t know ... I’m easy going ... I like I people. And that’s all. But ask her to describe her husband, and oh, my! Half an hour later, she’ll still be giving me the details. “Sure, it’s hard for people to see themselves as they really are, to face up to the bad habits and behavior that’s messing up their lives. But that’s what insight and growth are all about,” Divorce is the answer to only one problem; a bad marriage. It’s not the answer for depression, discontent, a dead-end job, the mid-life crisis or any other new (and fashionable) malaise. When it -is the answer, there’s bound to be pain, and other troubles. But it’s becoming easier to limit so their Divorce can be survived. And it’s a good sign for the future when two people who’ve been husband and wife can agree on a fair settlement and wish each other well when they say goodbye.