Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Elephant at home.

It's late into the argument.  You've been going at it for hours now and nothing seems to get resolved.  It's the same argument you've had, time and time again.  Sometimes you wonder if you argue just to have some connection, something to say, something to say instead of what you'd rather do at any given moment and that picture isn't too pretty.  But, it's what you and your spouse have left together.

So what do you argue about?  What is the substance of that dispute?  Is it money?  Is it a lack of passion?  Is it too much passion spent in a different direction?

We have 13 grounds for divorce in Georgia.  The grounds range from adultery to habitual intoxication to cruel treatment to you married your sister, to name just four.  And, of course, the no fault ground, Irretrievably Broken, known absolutely everywhere else as Irreconcilable Differences.

Once upon a time you had to prove a ground to be entitled to a divorce.  If you couldn't prove Joe committed adultery you had to stay married to him. So long as Joe knew how to hide it, you stayed wed.  When both parties wanted the divorce, Joe had to confess adultery, even if it didn't happen to be true.  Some archaic states still have this exclusively fault requirement on the books, causing their citizens to engage in legal hoodwinking to obtain freedom from their spouse with the State's blessing.  I'm very pleased that Georgia is no longer so paternalistic. 

But back to the story.  What do you argue about? 

After 21 years of litigating divorces and counseling parties in their most intimate moments as they sever their marital relationships, I've come to the opinion that what people argue about as they make their way to divorce is little more than window dressing.  As one of our Judges once announced as the wife pleaded from the stand, "But Judge, he committed adultery," to which the Judge quipped, "I figured there was some reason you were getting a divorce." 

The adultery doesn't cause the divorce.  The drinking doesn't cause the divorce.  The cruelty doesn't cause the divorce.  The fact that she's your sister doesn't cause the divorce.  You are getting a divorce because you want one, because you've come to the belief that you need one, because if you don't obtain one you firmly suspect you will soon go stark, raving mad. You are getting a divorce because you are over it.

The rest is just window dressing, rationalizations, all perfectly logical and right, but ultimately needless.  Ultimately it is simple.  You want out.  You get out. 

Wouldn't it be nice if it were that simple in practice, in the build up?  No drama.  As simple as the Paul Simon song.  Just slip out the back, Jack. 

But in real life we seem to have to argue.  We seem to have to become bitter and angry.  We seem to use these emotions as a catalyst, a form of dynamite to blast us out of our relationships and into the bright light of the freedom we then desire. 

From a legal standpoint we don't need it.  From an emotional standpoint (in the legal context) it gets in the way, it holds us back, it pushes us to make bad, destructive decisions.

We argue about much, but we argue about nothing.  What we ignore is the elephant in the room, that elephant at home.  That is, until it comes charging out and tramples everyone in its path. I think it is better to talk about the elephant before it goes on its rampage.

So, if you are ready to move on, own it.  Don't argue about his infidelity.  Don't argue about how drunk she is again.  Don't argue about how your mother was right, your wife made for a bad daughter, too, just bring out the elephant, introduce it, and move on.

Michael Manely

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