"I know that you have a hundred complex cases,
Against God in court,
But never mind wayfarer
Let's just get out of this mess
And pray to be loving and humble...."
- Hafiz, From Translations of Daniel Ladinsky
"The Gift: Out of this Mess" -
Mindful Divorce: A Middle Way
Our aim is simple: How best to get you out of this mess?
Whatever its usefulness in protecting business interests, the American
model for resolving legal disputes as applied to
relationship transitions tends to be inadequate. An adversarial system founded upon conflict ignores
the consequences of making a contest over every issue to individuals,
and to their families. It encourages decent people to become obsessed with winning at any cost,
which may wind up quite differently as a terrible loss.
The high conflict divorce is expensive and destructive beyond reason. It
invites the next generation to repeat the experience, and so the children
of divorce themselves may be forced to work through their parents'
rage over the course of their own lives.
The practice of family law is a noble calling. There are situations where
court intervention is the only solution to people's relationship conflicts.
But many may not be best served by beginning the dissolution process at
the courthouse. Divorce and family law contests tend to invite a form
of trance, and some lawyers subscribe to the viciousness it provokes,
or to encourage it through misconceived aggression, or just don't
know how to integrate another approach. It is not their fault: The warrior
role that we lawyers are trained to assume remains the consensus, and
we live in a world of five second sound bites and screaming talking heads.
At times people need this form of advocacy, and lawyers can contribute
greatly to their safety through vigorous representation.
Still, there are lawyers who realize that the old style of practice misses
the point and accomplishes avoidable misery. These attorneys have remembered
why we became family law professionals in the first place - something
in them resonated with the suffering of others. As lawyer and author Steven
Keeva observed, "[t]o the extent that you enter it as a calling,
the practice of law is about hunger - the hunger for resolution; for healing
the lives of individuals,... and communities; for enabling society to
function harmoniously and productively; and ultimately, for justice."
I aspire to be such a lawyer. It took years of battling like the rest to
comprehend a middle way, and to understand that it is possible to be both
a zealous advocate and an enthusiastic peacemaker without sacrificing
the needs and safety of those I serve. Even in the most enmeshed and highly
conflicted of family law disputes, sensitivity towards the trauma of divorce
can restore dignity to the process for both sides. Your experience may
be positively shaped by the attitude of your legal representative.
There is a satisfactory alternative to the high conflict divorce and all
its downstream consequences. We can help to get you out of this mess, intact!
Learn More About My Divorce Practice
and Mediation Philosophy
Family law litigators operate within a radically confrontational setting.
Clients who seek us out find themselves deep within the throes of wrenching
emotional disequilibrium. Understanding the effects of client crisis,
and the possibility of addressing it constructively, offers a path to
redemption for lawyers and clients. This original article by T. W. Arnold
is published by Martindale-Hubbell/LexusNexus.
The emotional benefits of mindfulness in divorce will not only save and
protect you, they will resonate far into the future and improve the lives
of everyone with whom you come in contact with, including not just children
(the best reason), but everyone else whom you meet.
Financial benefits may be the most immediate but also the least obvious
result of a mindfulness practice! The cost of reactive divorce - that
is, any divorce where people are responding with their emotional brains
rather than consciously choosing how to feel and behave - is mind boggling.
People enmeshed in divorce tend to think that they should hire the most
aggressive divorce attorney they can afford. Some lawyers market themselves
to respond to this impulse. They advertise themselves as "aggressive
advocates" or "aggressive divorce lawyers." They often
also describe themselves as offering "compassionate representation."
Which is it? Having it both ways is unlikely.
Before you step into a lawyer's office, you should know something about
them. Go to the California State Bar website. Search the attorney's
name. You will learn where they attended undergraduate school and law
school, when they were admitted to the Bar, if they are family law specialists,
whether they belong to any Bar Sections and stay current with the law,
and how long they've been practicing family law.
If you are considering or facing a divorce, I invite you to think outside
the box. You have the ability to define your experiences upon separating
your affairs from those of another whom once you loved. Seek out lawyers
who aspire to be peacemakers rather than warriors. Destruction is easy:
Set a brave new course instead.
Peacemaking solutions to divorce and breakup offer a brave new option for
people transitioning out of relationship. Peacemaking offers a "controlled"
alternative to the chaos of adversarial struggle. While peacemaking lawyers
are not therapists, the process that peacemaking facilitates is itself
therapeutic because it allows both parties to concentrate on their felt
interests and the best interests of their families. It a "controlled
process," managed by the parties and orchestrated by a peacemaker.
This article by Thurman W. Arnold was recently published by Mediate.com.
Being a mediator is a metaphor that speaks to our desire to live whole,
meaningful, and generous lives. We are blessed with an invitation to redeem
our personal stories in the course of helping others, and thus to live
more wakefully in the present. The disputants who share their conflicts
with us offer a path to such open-heartedness. That is their great gift
to us in return for our efforts, and one reason why we are drawn to this practice.
The power of forgiveness is of immense importance to working with the feelings
and difficulties we experience in relationship transitions, but it is
frequently ignored. In many cases true wrongs were committed and real
injuries were suffered. Forgiveness doesn't deny that, it just offers
perspective and freedom from the cycle of rage and reactivity.
How we feel in relationship transition has a lot to do with the fear, fight
or flight that the amygdala predisposes us for: We are hardwired to survive
and the limbic system is here to aid us! But when the amygdala is engaged
our pre-frontal cortex tends to shut down - and instead of behaving "rationally"
we tend to act "instinctively." Those conditioned responses
that might help us to flee or otherwise survive a threat in nature may
not be an adaptive response within our familial interrelationships, where
a different response might serve a more enlightened and energetically
positive form of surviving.
Family victimization is a national crisis for women and children. These
victims may be immobilized and rendered helpless, with an attendant loss
of self-respect, but often they suffer much more serious consequences.
Family victims are characteristically “trapped, cornered, or overpowered,
physically or psychologically, and they cannot function”
Certified Family Law Specialists - Board of Legal Specialization, State
Bar of California