Today, I went to court to finalize a divorce for my client, who had been married 35 years. I have had a series of these “grey divorces” lately– 6 of my settlements in the last six months have involved marriages over 20 years. One of my clients actually told me that she would understand the decision more if there was someone else in the picture. I respectfully had to disagree, because my experience is that the sense of betrayal then tends to cloud the entire process.
Divorcing later in life usually eliminates the issues of custody and child support, and generally there tend to me more assets to act as a cushion as the parties divide into two households, but regardless of the total value of assets being divided, financial security never seems to alleviate all the pain, which stems from the feelings of having failed at something so important. It is normal to feel a tremendous amount of loss and dissapointment or anger. Most of all though, what I see when these long-term marriages end is clients who now have to face the fear of being alone. After decades of being part of a team, these people are now parting ways and starting over a single life in their 50’s or older. It is truly one of the hardest things to observe, and sadly looking at me will not provide them with much of a consulation, for my track record over the last six years just proves that it is really hard to find the right life partner.
So many people have asked me if I still believe in marriages that can last forever, and I have never waivered in my response that I do still believe in those sacred vows, but I also understand that people grow apart, they change, they take one another for granted, they fail to communicate and resolve conflict in healthy ways. These things can all take their toll, even in the best of marriages. Rarely is it just one person’s fault, and just because the partnership is dissolving does not mean it has to be ugly or nasty.
Helping people resolve their differences respectfully should be every divorce lawyer’s goal. Those of us committed to mediation and Collaborative Divorce aim to do just that– because that is what it best for families, who will remain connected even if no longer under one roof. Every lawyer may not be able to see that, but certainly every client has a choice as to the attorney s/he wants to retain, and everyone should realize that this choice can completely define the future of a family for generations.