Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mutual Consent Divorce - A Different Perspective

I admit that I have been frustrated with Maryland's requirement that, except in cases of adultery or extreme cruelty, couples have to be separated for a year before they can obtain a final divorce.  It is so unbearably difficult for many couples to separate before they've sold or refinanced the house or transferred retirement assets, and they can't transfer retirement assets until a divorce.  It takes some couples the better part of a year to decide on the terms for their separation agreement, which is necessary to refinance the house, and then knowing that it would be another year after that, causes some couples to make poor decisions about separating just to get the process moving.  Therefore, I was thrilled when the Maryland legislature passed our new mutual consent grounds for divorce.

In a nutshell, our new divorce grounds states that if a couple has no children under the age of 18, has a full and complete separation agreement to which they both agree, and both show up for the divorce hearing, they can get a divorce without any separation at all.  In the first month of the new law, I had three such divorces.  In two of them, the parties had been separated slightly less than one year.  In one of them, they were not separated.  I want to talk about that last case, because truly, I thought all three would end up the same.  They didn't.

The people in that third case are having a tough time.  After a very long marriage, they decided (OK, one side decided) that they were getting a divorce, they negotiated their separation agreement easily and quickly, and their divorce was a month later, while they were still in the same house.  They are now struggling emotionally.  You see, getting a divorce so quickly did not allow them time to grieve the loss of their relationship as it was and their marriage, to process what it meant to be separate and apart, to experience the reality of living separate and apart, of developing new and different support systems, and of learning to disengage from their old pattern of taking care of each other.

I know,the only difference between them and our regular divorce clients is that they began living separately after the divorce rather than before, but that distinction is not an inconsequential one.  Only if you've gone through a divorce can you understand that there is a cataclysmic difference between being separated and being divorced.  One is temporary and preparatory, and the other is final and permanent.  It may not look different in terms of day to day life, but it feels different.  Kind of like knowing a relative with a fatal disease is going to die, and their actually dying.  That feeling takes time to work its way through the psyche and to become normal.  With the end of a marriage, it takes time to set those new boundaries and the new relationship with someone with whom you've shared your life.  Its damned near impossible to do it well when you are not only mourning the end of the relationship as you knew it, but also the end of the legal status of marriage.  Both parts of this particular couple, perhaps because they have been together so long, are having a difficult time of it.  Who would have thought?  Not me.  Now, the legislature is talking about expanding the mutual consent divorce to people with minor children.  That adds another layer of logistics and grief.  Six months ago, I would have cheered the expansion of the divorce ground.  Now, I'm not so sure.  Here in the Trenches.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Divorce is a Journey

I miss blogging.  There are times when I struggle for what to say, but I love talking to you in this medium.  My home computer, where I do most of my writing, is no longer able to connect with Blogger, so my posts are very sporadic while I investigate EXHAUSTIVELY all my options. This is, of course, typical for me, as I tend to over-investigate every choice I have to make, whether it involves spending money or not.  OK, I worry it to death.  Now, if you needed to get something, I'd help you make that decision in a heartbeat....and that is our discussion for today.

You know that I am a big Brene Brown fan.  As a matter of fact, I'm taking her online course right now.  It's really difficult; this self-discovery stuff is hard.  As part of the course, I took Kristen Neff's assessment of self compassion.  I failed in the "self" part.  It seems I have oodles of compassion for others, but not much for myself.  I'm my own toughest critic - big surprise, right?  To do the work I do, I need to have a lot of compassion for others, but I think it's funny that I urge others to practice self-compassion.  I guess that those who don't do, teach.  I'm learning to be aware of when I'm coming down too hard on myself and cut myself a break; to be more understanding and forgiving of myself.  As a result, I'm enjoying life a lot more.

Mindfulness is becoming a huge part of what we do here in the Trenches.  So much of what we do is about helping our clients learn to let go and create a life after they leave us.  I've known that for years; it appears the rest of the world is figuring it out.  That would explain the popularity of Jeena Cho, and the rise in popularity of books like Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well by Wendy Paris.  The fact is that what you get out of life depends on what you put into it and how you view it;  your divorce is no different.   Whether divorce is part of your life and your learn from it or something you never get past and over, is your choice.  I love reading Jeena's posts about mindfulness and law practice on Facebook and Twitter.  I just came across Wendy when I was catching up on another of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, and found her interview with Wendy here.  It was intriguing and lead me, in turn, to Wendy's "The Principles of Parting."  I commend it to you, think you should print out multiple copies and tape them everywhere.  Life, even divorce, is a journey.  What kind of journey is up to you.  Here in the Trenches.