May 8, 2013

Now You’re Just Somebody That I Used to Know?

KL1A0028When someone mentions divorce, where does your mind go?  Do the words “fight,” “bitter,” or “vicious” come up?  How about terms like, “teamwork,” “goals,” or “considerate?”  It’s interesting to an experienced divorce lawyer how often the expectations include the former terms, and how often, in Collaborative Divorce, the reality includes the latter concepts.

I was reminded of this recently when a client I represented in a Collaborative divorce five years ago sent me a note.  I have always remembered him because of the great shift in his attitude toward his wife by the time the case was over.  When we began his divorce, he stated in an early meeting that the couple’s property should be divided in his favor, since he had always earned more than his wife (which is NOT the way the law looks at it).  The statement was not well-received, either by his wife OR her attorney.

The couple had been married more than 30 years.  As the case drew to a close, it became obvious that her job at a prominent Minnesota corporation, her debt-free house, and the even division of their property and substantial retirement assets would provide for her just fine.  The only question left was spousal maintenance.  We often see a spouse who doesn’t need financial assistance waiving maintenance—in fact, often the couple mutually agree to take jurisdiction over maintenance away from the court altogether, for all time.  When I asked whether she had given any thought to waiving maintenance, she glanced at her veteran lawyer, then shyly said she would waive it.  In the next instant, we were all stunned to hear my nuts-and-bolts, cut-and-dried, professional engineer client say, in a voice of genuine warmth, “I don’t think you should do that.  You never know.  You might need it some day.”

Approaching the end of their marriage as a family-centered problem-solving exercise, rather than a combat, allowed this wife to give up a claim I would have assumed she would keep.  And it allowed her husband to decline her offer, in the interest of her potential long-term welfare, a gesture no one would have predicted.  Their mutual trust of each other, reaffirmed during their weeks of working together, ultimately allowed them both to make decisions that considered each other’s welfare as much as their own.

Steve YasgurABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Yasgur

Stevan Yasgur is a Collaborative Family Law attorney practicing in Edina, MN. A 1980 graduate of the William Mitchell College of Law, he was active in the organized bar early in his career and drafted legislation amending the child support law. He has tried numerous dissolution cases and resolved hundreds of others without trial. For the last decade, his practice has emphasized assisting clients in the Collaborative process. He is also a qualified Rule 114 neutral on the Supreme Court's roster of qualified neutrals. He is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, a member and past-president of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota, and a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

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