In her June 16, 2014 Boston Globe column "The divorce is worse than the marriage", Jennifer Graham praised a movement to curtail access to divorce in America, lamenting that “conservative” efforts to make divorce more difficult to obtain carry the political/cultural tag of being "fringe". She contends that the near universal right of divorce without cause has become politically correct and, thus, immune from clear-eyed political re-examination. Coupled with the damage that divorce inflicts on family life, social stability and children's well-being, she crudely terms divorce in the 21st century a "...sacred cow with poisonous teats...” To stem the tide, Ms. Graham suggests that perhaps pre-divorcing couples ought be required to endure a day in family court before filing is permitted. Her thesis suggests that watching the humiliation of others will slap couples back to sensibility, domestic tranquility, or at least resignation. Sort of a domestic Reefer Madness.
Tasteless analogy aside, Ms. Graham ‘s piece raises an ironic question: do people who dedicate their professional lives to making divorce less humiliating and costly, more humane and child-sensitive, cause more harm than good, by making the divorce experience less poisonous for families?
They come in many professions and roles. They are judges, probation officers and lawyers; psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers; teachers and researchers; accountants and financial consultants. They experiment, innovate, mediate and collaborate. They work to make courts less intimidating and more efficient; to assist unrepresented litigants; to create early intervention programs to spot and address child trauma; to educate parents and allied professionals; and to create, refine and staff out-of-court dispute resolutions processes that stress self-determination, self-respect and privacy, outward respect and action on mutual interests and solutions. They pursue different theories and practices. They succeed and fail. They are united in common cause: to reduce trauma, to lessen cost and to enhance children's outcomes.
As divorce mediators, do we work at cross-purposes to Ms. Graham’s defenders of marriage? If fear of humiliation is an effective way to deter divorce, do well-meaning efforts to make divorce less traumatic undermine the family? History brings us the state of marriage. As divorce mediators, we cannot stop it; but we can make it less traumatic. If that enables divorce, sobeit.
Incidentally, we agree with Ms. Graham that good can come from a real day in court, but for different reasons. Real life court watching can provide perspective to those considering marriage, and those considering divorce litigation alike. To the former, the seriousness of the decision to marry may be reinforced; and viewing the agony of others may drive would be litigants to out-of-court processes that are less costly and destructive. It can encourage a wavering litigation client to settle, to avoid the spectacle and uncertainty of trial and pursue out-of-court options.