Trust with the Ex: Taking Insanity Out of Divorce


A good rule of thumb if you’re going through a divorce: at this time, every thought and instinct you have is wrong.

Most divorces I know of are breeding grounds for resentment and bad behavior. The desire for revenge overwhelms most decent and sensible instincts.

There are two reasons divorce so often turns out this way: human nature, and legal nature.

Our baser natures, I think, are focused on self-preservation—including psychologically. That means we react from fear—never a good thing. And nothing hurts like the one who said “I do” saying “I don’t.”

Lawyers operate in a profession where there is no concept of truth—there is only evidence. And marriage—being a civil contract—has grown to be subject to the usual legal framework—opposing interests, plaintiffs and defendants. Husband meets wife in a court of law, to determine a winner and loser. A worse formula for amicable separation is hard to imagine.

Some argue this is fine: it is in society’s interest for it to be difficult to divorce. Maybe—but when you’re the individual, it doesn’t feel good taking a bullet “for society.”

Paradoxically, divorces—if navigated well—can be enormous opportunities for personal growth. To retain one’s self-worth, to choose the long-term over the short, to remain magnanimous under stress, and to choose compassion over revenge—these are all higher-order acts.

Some initiatives within the legal profession move in a more human direction—in particular, mediation and collaborative divorce. In Keen Interest in Gentler Ways to Divorce, AP reporter David Crary lays out the case.

Both mediation and collaborative divorce are far cheaper, for one thing:

[The Boston Collaborative] analyzed 199 of its recent divorce cases, and found that mediation, collaborative divorce and litigation all produced high rates of successful settlement. Mediation was by far the least expensive option, with a median cost of $6,600, compared to $19,723 for a collaborative divorce, $26,830 for settlements negotiated by rival lawyers, and $77,746 for full-scale litigation.

It also gives lawyers a way out of a nasty business:

Most of us had that moment where we realize the adversarial process is so damaging for our clients — and there’s a recognition that we can do better," said Talia Katz, a former divorce lawyer who is executive director of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

The forces of Good also seem to be winning a few rounds:

Supporters of collaborative law were dismayed last February, when the Colorado Bar Association declared such arrangements unethical on grounds that they prevented a lawyer from exercising undivided loyalty to a client. But in August, the American Bar Association’s Ethics Committee weighed in, endorsing the collaborative process as long as clients were fully informed about its provisions.

People have written that divorce is bad for children; I think it’s the typical divorce that is bad for children. A mediated or collaborative divorce offers the possibility of continued respect between mother and father, thereby not confusing their children for life.

I’ve written elsewhere (Trust in Business: the Core Concepts) that trust can be deconstructed into four components. The most powerful of them is a low level of self-orientation of the one who would be trusted.

I can think of few things that drive us more toward self-orientation, and therefore untrustworthy behavior, than the whirlpool of divorce—as usually practiced.

Sometimes Spouse A suggests collaborative or mediated divorce; yet because of resentment, low trust, etc., Spouse B rejects the opportunity—precisely because it was suggested by Spouse A. Little do they know how much that first sip of poison will infect the rest of their lives.

If you know someone who’s getting divorced, urge them—strongly—to read up on mediated or collaborative divorce.

If you’re getting divorced, and your spouse has suggested it—thank your stars that the one you used to be in love with still has enough respect for your marriage to consider ending it decently.

If you’re the one in a position to initiate it, do yourself and everyone else a huge favor. Mediate, collaborate—don’t litigate.



7 replies
  1. Michelle Malay Carter
    Michelle Malay Carter says:

    Well written Charles.  Taking the high road isn’t always easy in the short term, but it produces the best long term results.

    After she was in a plane crash that killed  her son, Susan Saint James said (I’m paraphrasing from memory), "Being resentful is like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die." 


    Michelle Malay Carter

  2. JHS, Esq.
    JHS, Esq. says:

    Thanks so much for participating in this week’s Carnival of Family Life hosted at <a href="">Pajama Mommy Community</a>!  Be sure to drop by and check out some of the other wonderful entries this week!

    I am a survivor of the legal realm of divorce both as a participant and practitioner and much of what you say is true.  When in law school, I really wanted to practice family law, thinking naively that I could make a difference in the lives of my clients and their children.  In some cases, I did.  In far more, however, my clients and their future exes were too focused upon themselves, their new squeezes, and fighting over their children as though they were prizes to be won at the country fair shooting gallery than in securing a decent future for themselves and their kids.  After 7 years, I happily took down my private practice shingle, joined the public sector and resolved never to handle another divorce or custody battle.  I was burned out.  Give me a juicy workplace battle involving things like  discrimination or sexual harassment any day.  That’s a sad statement about our culture, isn’t it?

  3. Rosalind Sedacca, CCT
    Rosalind Sedacca, CCT says:

    Bravo! Well  said. And can’t be repeated often enough. Any parents who care about the well-being of their children, especially emotionally and psychologically, need to consider mediation and collaborative divorce and co-parenting as first options — for the sake of their kids.

    My own divorce many years ago prompted me to just complete my new book, How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! I don’t just tell parents what to say. I say it for them! — using age-appropriate fill-in-the-blank templates in a storybook context with family photos and history. Visit to learn more about this therapist/attorney/mediator-endorsed approach to a very difficult subject. Free articles and ezine too.

    Best regards,
    Rosalind Sedacca, CCT


  4. Charles H. Green
    Charles H. Green says:

    JHS and Rosalind, thanks for the personal testimonies.  They rhyme with mine as well.  Please drop by more often–this is a business blog with the point of view that you can’t really separate business from the personal. 

    Michelle, I’ve always loved that quote, but never knew the source; it is brilliant. 


  5. Rosalind Sedacca, CCT
    Rosalind Sedacca, CCT says:

    Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate your focusing on the work/life balance reminding everyone that you can’t separate your personal life from your productivity and effectiveness  on the job.  Obviously, a drama on the level of divorce creates challenges with no easy answers. But there is support that can make a big difference in your state of mind and the outcomes you experience. I encourage everyone facing separation or divorce to take advantage of these resources — and take the time to think things through before making any decisions.

    Best wishes for positive outcomes.
    Rosalind Sedacca, CCT


  6. JOCKO1
    JOCKO1 says:




  7. Mark
    Mark says:

    This is a very sensitive process. Having to undergo divorce is not only hard for the couple but also to their children. As responsible parents, even when they are already separated, they should prioritize their kids’s feelings. One can also use so-parenting-manager organizers or planners ( which can help in the recovery process of parents and their children.


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