Divorce and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future
I love Christmas, and one of my favorite Christmas traditions is listening to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, as read by Doug Brown on Iowa Public Radio. While in the middle of trying to wrap up as much work as possible in the office, buy a bunch of gifts, and travel to a ton of events, it’s nice to take a moment to slow down and remind myself what the Christmas season should really be about. I think the novel is fascinating, and I feel that the message is also very relevant to my clients as they consider what path to take in their own lives.
These are the shadows of the things that have been…what do you see? All of us have a past – sometimes happy; sometimes not. The first spirit reminds Scrooge that his current, unhappy state he is in is not the way his life has always been. The message to us is that even if things look bleak now, a look back at our past can show us our days of joy, mistakes that we have made, and help us to make decisions that will make our future better. Many people I talk with are in unhappy relationships that are seemingly beyond repair and want out. However when children are involved, it’s important to remember that a divorce will not “end” an unhappy relationship. Parents will continue to work together or against each other for the rest of their children’s lives, and the damage done by “ending” a relationship with a highly contested, traditional litigated case may last a lifetime. Collaborative law, with its emphasis on respect, communication, and problem solving, presents an opportunity to change the trajectory of the relationship between parents, even after a separation.
If these shadows remain unaltered by the future, the child will die. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the happiness and contentment of the Cratchit family, despite their poor living conditions, lack of material wealth, and the ill health of their young child. Even in the worst of conditions, the family and child are able to find hope and joy. And it’s the same for many of the people I meet. Even if days are dark now, a better and happier future is possible, if they are willing to take action to make it so. Many times people will come to see me multiple times over a period of months or years, afraid to make a decision. However not making a decision has its own cost, not the least of which is lost time. Time is your life. Given enough lost time, and enough time spent on a dangerous course, the ability to improve the future may be lost. Divorce and custody cases are generally either an adversarial or collaborative process from the outset. By waiting too long, some clients miss the opportunity to either fix a relationship or choose a higher road to resolve their issues peaceably.
Before I draw nearer to that gravestone…Are these the shadows of things that WILL be, or are they the shadows of things that MAY be only…tell me that I can change these dreadful shadows. The final spirit shows Scrooge his future, given the current course of his life. Tiny Tim dies, Scrooge dies, and so it is with all of us. The question for Scrooge and us to consider is whether we will make a DECISION to take ACTION to improve our own lives and the lives of others? Are we willing to make the changes needed within ourselves first? What legacy do we want to leave behind when we are gone? The past can not be changed, the future is not written in stone, and the present is the only fleeting opportunity we have to make a difference.
After considering my own past and the work that I have done to help others improve their lives, I have decided to place a renewed emphasis on Collaborative Law in the coming year. I hope you take a moment to enjoy A Christmas Carol. You can find IPR’s holiday schedule here: http://iowapublicradio.org/ipr-holiday-schedule-2016#stream/0 . And I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and an Awesome 2017. -Evan