Have you been through a divorce? How was the experience? I know that it varies from couple to couple. For some it’s not much more than filing a few papers with the court and then each individual goes his or her own separate way. However, for others, it can be costly and traumatic, and can destroy relationships with children, other family members and friends.
I know of someone who spend $250,000 in legal fees getting a divorce. I know someone else who post- divorce never spoke to his children again. In other instances, I know where the divorcing parties used their children as pawns, trying to one-up on their ex-partners by bribing their children or painting a bad picture of their ex-partner to their children.
If divorce was rare, maybe the above scenarios would not be so bad. But divorce is not rare. In the US there are about 875,000 divorces a year. That’s one divorce approximately every 36 seconds and nearly 2,400 divorces per day. According to one website, the average divorce in the US costs about $7,500. That means we are spending about $6.5 billion a year on divorces.
So, divorces cost huge amount of money, they ruin families, they ruin relationships, and they ruin lives. You might as why. The situation is complex, but I believe there are four reasons why the system is as dysfunctional as it is. First, at the time of a divorce, people can be very emotional. Rejection by a partner, changes in living arrangements, concerns about finances, anger over possible indiscretions, and embarrassment all create potentially overwhelming emotions, and when people are overwhelmed by emotions, they often don’t make the most logical and rational decisions.
Second, we have legislation passed by well-intentioned fools that state that property acquired by either party during the marriage has common ownership, even if one of the partners in the marriage contributed significantly more to the accumulation of wealth than did the other partner. Now I know the argument is that you might have one partner who has a good income and goes to work, while the other partner is a stay-at-home parent who looks after the kids and the poodle. I get that. So, what we end up with is bad legislation to fix a problem that seemingly could be fixed by some other process or method.
Third, we have laws that require fathers (typically fathers although it could be mothers) to pay child support to take care of the children, yet in many cases these payments are excessive, and further, the law has not found an effective way to really enforce fathers to make these payments.
Finally, we have attorneys that take an adversarial approach to divorce, perhaps in part to drive up their fees, as opposed to encouraging the parties to the divorce to settle matters amicable and fairly. My observations suggest attorneys can “add fuel to the fire” making the situation worse than it really needs to be.
I have a few suggestions even though they may seem a bit radical. However, given the high cost to society, both in dollars and in ruined lives, maybe a radical solution is needed.
First, I would change marriage law so that a marriage license, just like most contracts, has a term and termination date. In other words, the marriage is automatically dissolved at a specific point in time unless the parties to the marriage agree to extend the contract for another ten years, fifteen or twenty years.
Second, I would make it a requirement that people getting married sign something that stipulates how the assets of the marriage will be split up should divorce occur. I know we have pre-nuptial agreements but having been through that dysfunctional process, we need a better process that does not require the involvement of attorneys. I will have more to say on this subject in another article. This stipulation about assets should also include agreement on such things as child customer, child support, spousal support and so on. While these are hefty subjects to be discussing at least if they are addressed before the marriage the parties should be less emotional and more logical in coming to terms that make sense.
Third, I would require that people getting marriage take some sort of training before making the plunge. The government requires us to pass a test before we get a driver’s license. Why not require people who intend to get married to also take some classes or training so they are better equipped to handle the issues that can come up in a marriage. This is a role that churches, and other religious institutions could play.
Finally, we need to figure out a way to get the attorneys out of the divorce business. $6.5 billion in fees so that people can figure out how to go their separate ways seems ridiculous and a huge waste of society’s capital. Maybe we have a do-it-your divorce process where the parties figure this out themselves, maybe with the assistance of a mediator or counselor (who is not an attorney), and then file the paperwork without the involvement of an attorney.
I know what I am proposing seems radical. But the situation we have now is way too costly and way to destructive. If aliens from Alpha Centauri observed how we handle divorce, they would think we are crazy. We are smart people. There must be a better way.