She got the goldmine (I got the shaft).

She got the goldmine (I got the shaft).*

She got the goldmine (I got the shaft).

Nobody gets married with the idea they will get divorced.  For those who decide to untie the knot, most simply want a clean break and a fresh start.

But nothing is safe from divorce attorneys and the more dysfunctional the relationship, the better it is (for them).

The good news.

The divorce rate (the number of divorces per 1,000 married women age 15 and older) has fallen by 25% from 1980, says the National Center for Family and Marriage Research (2015). One reason it has reached a 40-year low is our ageing population; older couples are far less likely to divorce than younger ones.  Another factor is far fewer are getting married in the first place.  According to Pew Research Center (2014), a quarter of today’s young adults will have never married by 2030, the highest share in modern history.

The not-so-good news.

YPG-BLOG - 'til debt do us partDivorce is still common—more than 800,000 marriages were annulled in 2014.  When the relationship goes on the rocks, a seemingly universal belief among aspiring divorcees is that the process will be over quickly and both parties can get on with their lives as if it never happened (superiority trap**).  Many also naively think that each will receive half of what was shared (see: ’til debt do us part).

Au contraire, Pierre—in reality, divorce is often costly and protracted.  A survey by Nolo, a legal publisher, found the average American couple spends $15,000 and almost 11 months untying the knot.  Worse yet, the longer you are married the more marriage-specific capital you accumulate, the more emotional the divorce, and the greater the cost.

In this corner, wearing the red trunks…

Divorce is big business in the U.S. (about a $30 billion-a year industry).  Although only a handful of divorces are actually settled in court, the legal system is bred to be adversarial. Divorce lawyers make lousy therapists, yet they earn a lot of their money by babysitting dysfunctional couples who can’t even have a conversation with each other.

Many couples have wanted to quietly settle their divorce with limited hassle, only to have the attorneys morph them into pit bulls (framing trap**).  And lawyers who make their livings off litigating contested divorces are as thorough as watchmakers and as speedy as tortoises.  Attention fallen cupids—at $200–$300 per hour, it is not about fairness and compromise; it’s all about “billable time.”

Alternatives to WW III

Pardon the pun, but no law says you have to hire an attorney.  If you feel that you and your spouse can rationally come to an agreement on who will get what, purchase a do-it-yourself divorce kit at Barnes & Noble and settle things over a latte or two.  It’s perfect for the young couple who has nothing to dispute and no children.

For stickier separations, mediation is growing in popularity.  Here, couples meet with an impartial lay person who helps them determine the terms of their divorce.  Another method is collaboration.  It differs from mediation in that the meetings involve the lawyers representing each of the partners versus an independent mediator.  Once a judgment is entered in court, the agreement becomes legally binding.

Recently, new enterprises are trying to make divorce cheaper and more amicable by offering mediation, counseling, financial planning, and custody schedule services.  Here are a few:

The dirty little secret is divorce lawyers never lose their appeal.  Once the smoke of battle clears, attorneys for both sides walk arm-in-arm to the tennis courts.  You’re broke, they’re stoked.  All very collegial, you see.  If it weren’t for the lawyers, we wouldn’t need them!

* From the song recorded by Jerry Reed (1982).

Almost everything in life is easier to get into than out of.
~ Agnes’ Law

** Questionable beliefs can “trap” our better judgment, leading to poor decisions and unintended consequences.  In the superiority trap, we over-emphasize our sense of control over events.  In the framing trap, we underappreciate how others shape our opinions and desires.  Learn more about these, and other interesting topics, in the Young Person’s Guide to Wisdom, Power, and Life Success.

I love taking my message directly to students and groups of young persons!  If you would like me to speak at your school, not-for-profit, or corporate event, please use the Contact Form and enter “Speaker” in the subject line.  We’ll work out the details.  ~ Brian

Image credit: “hands of wife and husband signing divorce documents” by krivinis, licensed from (2017).