4 Truths a Virginia Divorce Attorney Wishes Other People Knew About Family Law
I can tell you how the conversation always goes.
“You represent women only? Your poor husband.”
“Women only, huh? Scary for men!”
“Family law – how awful!”
“Young people these days, they just don’t try hard enough to make a marriage work.”
It’s pretty predictable, and it actually happens all the time. People are – in general – shocked to find that I work (and have worked for ten years now!) at a family law firm dedicated to representing women exclusively in divorce, custody, and support cases.
Probably, though, what they DIDN’T bet on is quite how much I like to talk about it, especially when faced with misogyny. And those last two, really, is a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the actual lived reality of any woman who is facing a divorce in her actual life. Let me explain.
This is a list of 4 things that I wish people knew about divorce.
1. Women really do need dedicated legal representation.
Lawyers do a lot of things, in a lot of cases. They represent men and women, for starters. And, oftentimes, they represent people in a number of different practice areas – personal injury, criminal law, estate planning, and more.
So, when you combine the fact that many lawyers are handling many different types of cases (and trying desperately to stay above water with the frequent statutory, case law, and local rule updates, not to mention pandemic-related regulations) and that they represent people who are sometimes completely at odds, arguing for one side in one argument and another side in the next argument, it’s not exactly a recipe for success for most women.
Handling family law cases, among many other things, doesn’t allow the attorney the opportunity to gain the depth and breadth of knowledge necessary to do family law cases justice. It also means that it sometimes takes awhile to have two cases that present the same, or substantially similar, issues. So, by the time a case comes around, it’s been awhile since the attorney worked on, say, a military divorce, or did a FERS retirement order, or argued for parental alienation or a relocation. And the laws are changing so much so frequently, it can be hard to catch up.
Not only that, but representing men and women means that the attorney ends up doing the thing that most people hate about attorneys – talking out of both sides of their mouths. To make an argument in one case and then make the opposite argument in another isn’t really convincing. It’s self serving.
Practicing family law exclusively, and representing women exclusively, means that the experience with our firm is different than anywhere else. Women DO need dedicated legal representation, but they need it from a firm – and from lawyers – experienced in representing women, and with extensive, constant, exclusive experience in the area of family law.
2. How scary for MEN? Divorce is often far scarier for women.
Blech – I hate this one. And I get it SO OFTEN – in fact, as early as this morning. I made a little ‘maybe he’ll die’ joke. And, look, I know those jokes are silly, but it adds what I often think is a necessary amount of levity to what can otherwise be a pretty dark scenario.
Statistically speaking, he won’t die. Or, at least, he won’t do so conveniently during the divorce. And I don’t expect him to. It’s just a way of trying to be supportive, and maybe even a little darkly funny, in a really difficult situation.
But, seriously – scary for a MAN? When statistically speaking, men are the higher wage earners. It’s true; they’re not always. And we see women earning more and more all the time. But also, we see women become stay at home mothers, cut back on their work to support their families, and accept lesser paying but more flexible work arrangements in order to support their families ALL THE TIME.
I’ll be honest: it’s my own personal reality, too.
Women make tremendous sacrifices all the time for their families and their children, and it impacts their earning potential over a lifetime. In a divorce, when it comes time to talk about spousal support, no one wants to talk about how much she has sacrificed to support his career and their shared family, but that’s the actual reality of the situation.
Consider a spousal support case where you have a higher wage earning husband. Consider the lower income – or no income – wife. Who has the ability to spend the other one into the ground? Who has the ability to push the other to their financial breaking point in an effort to avoid paying the support that she EARNED by virtue of her years of support of him and his career? The husband, that’s who.
The wife, on the other hand, needs legal representation – that she sometimes can’t even afford. Scary for men? Oh, please.
3. Family law is not awful, it is empowering – and it gives women and children an opportunity to build a safer, happier future.
If you are a happily married person, I am sure you have trouble envisioning a divorce. And I am also sure that you think divorce is “sad”. It is certainly true that breaking up a happy, productive, well-functioning marriage would be very, very sad.
But that’s not what we do.
We break up abusive marriages. Marriages where someone suffers from untreated mental illness. Marriages where one party is a substance abuser. Marriages where someone has a criminal conviction. Marriages where someone has cheated, potentially even passing an STD or STI to their partner.
In short, we break down already broken marriages. Marriages that aren’t productive, satisfying, or healthy. We free people from their unhappy marriages, and allow them a second chance to make a future more like what they actually would have wanted for their lives.
We help the kids, too. I’m no child psychologist, so I won’t bore you with details of articles I’ve read online, but I think that a quick search will show you that it’s not divorce that does damage to children. It’s parents fighting, using the kids as pawns, pitting them against each other, etc. Divorce itself isn’t that terrible. But constant fighting, whether the parents stay married or not, takes a toll.
In many cases, a divorce is better for the children, especially if the parents can go on to be happier versions of themselves.
4. Literally no woman I’ve ever seen has given up “easily” or has failed to try to make her marriage work.
Nearly every single woman I’ve ever seen has cried during my meetings with her. Many have told me, in great detail, how hard they tried to fix their marriages. They tell me that they didn’t want it to come to this, that they’re worried about their children, that they still love their husbands.
No, I don’t think anyone makes this decision lightly. To suggest otherwise is to reject their lived reality because it doesn’t comport with your own, and that is not fair at all. To dismiss someone’s experience and to suggest that they didn’t try to save their own marriage is emotionally abusive behavior.
Women already define themselves by the success of their personal relationships. They’re already taking their divorce hard. They’re already blaming themselves. They’re already worried, desperately worried, about their children.
At the end of the day, there is no medal for staying in an unhappy, unproductive, unsuccessful, or abusive marriage. It doesn’t benefit the parties, and it certainly doesn’t benefit the children. Is that what you’d suggest that someone do, really? Just because you “don’t believe in” divorce?
I think it’s unhelpful at best, abusive at worst.
I think, what I wish people knew the most, is that we need to change our language surrounding divorce, so that divorced women don’t feel so othered by the experience. So they don’t feel the judgment of other people surrounding them when they’ve made the only decision they feel they could make to protect themselves and their children.
Make no mistake, divorce is a hard decision. And, sometimes, post divorce life is really challenging, especially financially. Women need support. To be lifted up. To be encouraged. To hear that they are worth it. That their happiness, their safety, their self worth, matters. It matters as much as their children’s matters, which is to say that it matters a great deal.
Women need support. From friends, from family members, from everyone around them – people who have gone through a divorce, and people who have not. A little empathy can go such a long way, and would be so important for healing.
For more information, to request a copy of one of our books or free reports, or to schedule a consultation with our office, give us a call at 757-425-5200.