The Anatomy of a Bad Divorce

Everyone knows what a bad divorce looks like – a spite filled argument that empties a couple’s bank account, leaving them with nothing and enriching the attorneys. But the cause for a bad divorce is something almost no one can agree upon.  Some claim that the cause of the bad divorce is simple – greedy attorneys who increase the conflict to bill more hours and fill their pockets.  While I am sure this does occur, simple greed is too simple an explanation.   In my experience, bad divorces are most often caused by how attorneys are trained.

Attorneys are trained in law school and by experience that their job is to focus entirely upon the interests of their client.  This training in single-mindedness is a method of insuring that attorneys remain loyal to their clients.  If lawyers are only concerned about their client, then they won’t do things against their client’s interests.   This approach to training is akin to why race horses often wear blinders – for the purpose of keeping them focused when racing round a racecourse.  In the realm of divorce, however, wearing blinders leads to directly to bad divorces.  I recently had a case that illustrated this problem clearly.

My client who wanted a low conflict divorce.  He was very concerned that this would not be possible due to his wife, who had shown a propensity to create conflict.  After a long negotiation, I was able to obtain an agreement on all terms of the divorce, including parenting time, that kept the kids out of the dispute.  Unfortunately, an incident occurred right before they were to have signed the settlement agreement that caused his wife to tear up the unsigned agreement.  At this point the wife’s attorney simply stopped communicating and cooperating with me to resolve the problem constructively.  Her client wanted sole custody and there would be no further communications or discussions on the subject.  All issues would be decided through expensive and stressful hearings before the court.  After eight months of this approach the divorce resolved with nearly the same terms as they had originally agreed to, but now the couple was far poorer from legal fees.

I don’t believe that the wife’s attorney had any bad intentions.  The wife’s attorney was highly experienced and well trained.  I believe her attorney was simply carrying out that the lessons of that experience and training - to not care about anything other than giving the client what she wanted.   Trying to resolve the dispute is not the attorney’s job – that’s the job of the judge. Concern for the children who are experiencing a high conflict divorce? Not the attorney’s problem. Concern for the children’s relationship with their father? Not the attorney’s worry.  Concern about the money being wasted in the divorce process? That’s the client’s problem.  In short, the wife’s attorney was trained to be blind to these things. If things turned out badly, it’s always the fault of someone else not doing their job.

The lesson here is that attorneys are, like racehorses, trained to wear blinders.  But the last thing anyone should want in a divorce attorney is blindness!  A good divorce attorney has excellent vision, which allows the attorney to advise his or her client on the bigger picture. The reason that I have focused my divorce practice on mediation and collaborative practice is because both methods allow me the work with clients using my full vision, which in turn allows my clients to make better decisions about their future.  Finding win/win solutions for couples, making the well-being of the children a priority and keeping the costs as low as possible?  That is my job as I see it.

Check out my website at for more information about how collaborative practice and mediation can help you avoid a bad divorce. 

Categories: Other Musings