When the American Bar Association Journal named me a "Legal Rebel" earlier this year, their headline read, "Disrupting Divorce."
For many people, "Disrupting Divorce" might suggest my aim is to reduce the number of couples seeking divorce. A noble goal, for sure. But the reason this legal trade magazine used that term to describe me, a long-time family law professional, is that they know something that most divorcing couples don't: divorce is broken. Or more specifically, the business of divorce is broken. It no longer works for anyone. Not couples. Not children. Not attorneys. Not judges. Not court systems. Nobody. As a result, its "disruption" is inevitable.
I, like so many of my legal colleagues, are fed up. And you guessed it, we're not going to take it anymore. I'll explain how we're turning this frustration into action in a moment. But first, let me explain to those who have not experienced the divorce industry why divorce must change:
- Misaligned incentives (or at least the appearance of them). Most family law attorneys are honest, well-intentioned professionals. But this does not change the fact that the more conflict, questions and paperwork they generate the more money they make. Let me be clear: I don't believe most attorneys are intentionally inflating bills. But even the appearance of such a situation hurts the chances of a peaceful solution. Let's stop litigating emotion. It only leads to disappointed clients, drained savings accounts, and, even worse, kids who end up caught in the middle.
- "Traditional" solutions in an untraditional world. According to Pew Research, less than half of kids live in a "traditional" family. Yet in many places, laws, courts and societal norms only provide "traditional" answers no matter how complex the puzzle. You can't really blame the court system, it's built to serve the masses. Divorcing couples -- even if working with an attorney -- must take ownership of their divorce and what their family's unique situation requires.
- Asymmetrical information. Most families entering the divorce process have no idea what they're getting into. The courts do. Attorneys do. But since most of those who divorce will only divorce once, they have little understanding of how the process really works let alone how to shop for professional help. And since accurate data on the cost of divorce, settlement rates, etc. is normally not collected (for one reason, see #4) and certainly not conveniently available, it is nearly impossible to be an informed consumer when it comes to divorce.
- Underfunded family courts. Most family law courts are drowning in red tape, unfunded mandates and over-flowing caseloads. Despite the rising costs inherent in points #1-3 above, funding simply has not kept up. The number of complicated cases continues to grow, but the resources to serve them do not.
- We still think divorce is a legal issue. And to a degree, of course, it is. But is that what causes us the pain? Is it the legally-required paperwork that prevents people from having a calm, peaceful and thoughtful divorce? Nope. It's usually the emotional issues -- driven by Puppy Brain -- that wreaks havoc on our lives, our finances and our relationships. Until we change this mindset that divorce equals law (and therefore lawyers, big legal bills, fighting, courtrooms, and so on), we don't have a chance to change how divorce is done.
This list is nowhere near comprehensive. There are so many more issues. So many, in fact, that a feature-length documentary, Divorce Corp., was produced to catalog them. Even if we disagree on the finer points or causes, nearly everyone who interfaces with the family law system understands it's not working.
So what are we going to do about it?
For years, I tried to work completely within the system. I tried running a compassionate solo practice. I joined a Collaborative Law group. I became a mediator. Each effort was successful in its own way. But it wasn't until I got further out of the system by starting a company, Wevorce, dedicated to turning every divorce amicable that I could see things clearly: change in the divorce industry has been too focused on the business of divorce and what we need is a movement.
A movement is defined as "a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas." Yes! The key words in our situation: "people working together" and "shared... social... ideas." Double yes!
Fortunately for all of us, this is happening. At organizations like ours and law practices around the country, professionals -- specifically lawyers -- are waking up to the fact that if they are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem. So they're becoming part of the solution.
They are becoming more transparent.
They are simplifying their pricing.
They are speaking out -- online and in legislatures.
They are joining together to learn and share.
They are disrupting divorce.
Thank you responsible divorce professionals for changing divorce for good. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed; it makes a big difference in the lives of every family that you help and in the world.
For those who have not experienced it first hand, divorce may seem like an unlikely starting place to change the world. But those of us who deal with divorce every day know differently: divorce touches so many families, we must not only disrupt it, we must fix it.
I'm in. How about you?