Sustainable divorce – how do you do that?

I recently attended the theatre play/talk programme Goed Scheiden in the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam. One of the panel members (an adviser to the Supreme Court) responded to the repeated remark on that day that 80% of divorces are supposed to go “well”. He pointed out that for the determination of whether a divorce went well, too much focus was placed on the moment of divorce itself.

While (or perhaps) 80% of the divorces are regulated in his view, many of the problems only become apparent afterwards. He had the impression (at least that’s how I understood it) that sometimes people, out of fear, guilt and shame, made certain agreements that weren’t right, just to get rid of their ex and complete the divorce, and later took revenge after the divorce, a situation that manifested in proceedings about, among other things, custody, visitation and alimony.

How good a divorce is, therefore, cannot be determined on the basis of only one moment in time. Not only is the question of how many divorces are settled without procedures important but also what happens afterwards. Especially for the children. The consequences will be felt for a long time to come.

How the process of divorce is implemented or gone through, however, does affect what those consequences will be.

Sweeping all the problems under the rug and postponing all arguments until a later time does not contribute to a sustainable result. Overall, people do not experience a divorce as a pleasant experience, and it is only human that one tries to avoid an unpleasant experience or wants to get through it as quickly as possible. When emotions are added, such as fear of a partner, shame and guilt, people may be inclined to skip important steps in the process. Both emotionally and financially. Or do not stand up for themselves, the children, or things that are essential to them. The focus then lies on reaching the finish line as quickly as possible and completing the divorce.

Fairy tales have a flip side

The focus in the debate about how divorces could be better is currently strongly focused on the fact that we as a society should move away from the tournament model, in which the parties submit their disputes to the judge and let the judge sort it out. The tournament model is said to polarize too much and cause damage. However, only telling fairy tales has a flip side. People continue to suffer from the emotions that have not received sufficient attention, but on closer inspection the agreements made are very unjust once the fog has lifted.

Taking shortcuts to get to the finish line quickly and just giving up or giving in, or not standing up for yourself or for what you think is important for the children, is not necessarily the best achievable long-term result, even if at first sight there seems to be a good divorce because it is regulated.

It is clear that the debate on exactly what good divorce is and what is needed has not yet yielded any clear answers, and as a society we have not yet agreed on this.

What is clear, however, is that good assistance for both parties is of great value for a divorce with sustainable results. The parties need knowledge and a complete picture in order to make informed decisions and to feel that the agreements they have made are actually fair and reasonable. The parties need guidance and recognition of their emotions so that they can go through them and process them. And the parties need guidance from solicitors who want to commit themselves to a sustainable result.

In a collaborative divorce, all these pillars are offered for a good foundation. There is a neutral financial specialist who ensures transparency with regard to finances and who can think of constructive solutions. A coach ensures that emotions receive sufficient attention and are managed properly and each party receives legal advice and guidance aimed at a sustainable solution, without going to court.

Hopefully, more attention will be paid to the possibilities that collaborative divorce already offers.