Aristotle was right. One day, Aristotle was asked by a young student, “How do you get to Mount Olympus?” Aristotle replied, “By simply ensuring that every step you take is one in that direction.”
Lawyers appreciate smart clients who engage in pre-divorce planning. But when your brother, sister or friend asks you about the things they should consider as their marriage unravels, what do you tell them? After you inquire about abuse or the danger of abuse, after you talk about addiction or intimacy issues, do you talk to them about their biggest asset? Regardless of who they are, their biggest asset is almost always the same….
Lockheed Martin says people are its greatest asset. Most marriages are founded on a similar belief that together they are stronger and will be more successful than they would be separately. When a marriage doesn’t thrive, no matter what the inventory looks like, the biggest asset (or liability) they are going to walk away with is … themselves. Maximizing the value of that asset demands consideration before the breakup occurs, and you, the lawyer, are in the best position to highlight the necessity for some planning here.
I didn’t get a crystal ball when I graduated from law school, but 32 years of practicing law have shown me some patterns:
- A lot of people leave marriages carrying negative emotions: angry, bitter, hurt, vulnerable, sad.
- Emotional baggage carried out of a marriage will impact future relationships. (I have represented some clients in serial divorces as they go through life collecting more baggage.)
- The marriage that is about to end may be the best place they will ever find to work through their emotional issues and leave them behind for good. The end of our dream relationship is a sad event, but it is a tragedy if negative emotions from the past poison our dreams for the future.
- The focus at the end of a marriage, whether it is short or long, should not be fighting over material items. Sure the stuff and money will have an impact on their future, but a good lawyer is going to take care of clients in this area. Your client, or friend, needs to spend some time looking past the divorce and planning now for their emotional future.
- The best planning they can do is to get advice from a professional; a really good therapist, asking:
From an objective viewpoint, what really went wrong?
Honestly, what was my part in this? (If your therapist can’t seem to help you with this, consider seeing a different therapist. If you wake up and realize your therapist is supporting you in thinking it was all his or her fault, you might want to consider a new therapist.)
What work do I need to do to take the best me with me into my future?
I give more than passing thought to the biggest asset my client is going to take with them. The more broken the marriage, the more likely my client is broken as well. Many marriages break because they exist in a vacuum; there is no outside support. If the marriage existed in a vacuum, the individuals involved may be left in an even bigger vacuum when it ends. Humans don’t thrive in a vacuum. I explore where they may find support. I make suggestions about where I know they can find support and then I follow up on their progress.
We all know that the advice of a caring attorney can make a big difference in any case, but this is especially true in family law. In my experience, the best family law attorneys think outside the box. They look further into the future, and with more clarity, than their clients and most opposing counsel.
There is an old saying that goes roughly like this: When you are up to your rear end in alligators, it is hard to remember that the main objective was to drain the darn swamp. Nowhere is that more true than in a divorce.
Really great lawyers plan for the end game, and this divorce isn’t the end. If you or the client tends to see it as the end, call me and let’s see if together we can identify the real goal. Then we might explore ways to remain focused on that objective.
Sherpas know there are many side trails and false peaks on the way up a mountain. And, Sherpas know the true path to the goal. Dennis A. Fuller