Saturday, January 26, 2008

Zen Divorce

James J. Gross, who writes the always interesting Maryland Divorce Legal Crier blog, had a post on Zen Divorce. Part of his post was the following:

"As a divorce lawyer, I make a living off the infidelity, desertion and cruelty of others. I have seen people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting over the marital estate. Believe me, I know how hard it is to toil, sacrifice and save for years to build up an estate, only to watch helplessly as it is destroyed almost instantly in a divorce. It is tough to let go of money. Yet that counterintuitive step is the secret of what I call the Zen Divorce.

"In order to have a Zen divorce, you have to think as follows: It is only money. And money does not buy happiness. Would you rather be happy or would you rather be rich? If you would rather be happy, you will have to learn to let go of the money. Walk away from it. Leave your luggage behind. You can always make more money - or re-marry someone rich."

James really explains the situation well. Unfortunately, very few people are mature or emotionally secure enough to be able to walk away, realizing that the money can be replaced. Of course, it is usually not easy. Many divorces result in disproportionate spending on litigation over comparatively small matters because the parties, or even just one of the parties, refuse to stop fighting. Even with a large estate to argue over, the emotional toll to battle may not be worth it.

Unfortunately, it takes two to reach an agreement, even with a Zen approach. While you can control your feelings and decide your strategy, you cannot control your spouse.

I recently finished up a long-running divorce where the other side spent close to $100,000.00 in attorney's fees (vs. $50-60,000.00 for us) to try to get a disproportionate share of an estate worth about $200,000.00. We had two trials, numerous hearings and appeals. She sank further and further into debt, but her anger would not let her agree to settle, even when offered 65% of everything. The judge awarded her 65% and a small amount of attorney's fees.

I would still strongly urge anyone going through a divorce to step back, consider the whole picture and try to be as objective as possible. If you're angry and don't want to settle, please go see a counselor -- not necessarily because you are crazy, but because you are not functioning in a manner that is not in your self-interest. Anger is common in a divorce, but you need to be thinking rationally in order to get the best result for yourself. Get some help!

Even if your spouse is difficult to deal with, try to put the whole case into perspective. Is the decision to fight a sound economic decision? What do you have to gain or lose by fighting? What is the worst possible outcome if you fight? What's the worst possible outcome if you don't fight? Think long-term, not just in the present or immediate future. Sometimes giving the other party what they want even backfires for them. If you're not trying to hold on to something, it becomes less attractive to the other side. And sometimes, they can't manage or benefit from what you give up. That is true even in child custody cases where one parent presses and presses for more time with the children and then can't really take care of them well.

Bottom Line: consider letting go of what you want, in order to get it.

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