Every woman we counsel visits us with the special obligation to advise her on quite possibly the worst day she can imagine: defeated, the life she hoped for, the family she protected and nourished, the home she built all are threatened by division. For her, meeting with us marks a profound life change, the acknowledgement of a tragic loss long suspected and equally long deferred. In the real world, try though we may we cannot split her family down the middle. To her dividing a life seems more like tearing a fabric in two: no matter how she tries the seams never fit exactly right again, and what she can’t see, the tiny pieces lost in the severing, leave everything incomplete in their absence.
To most women even the simple acts of calling us, driving to our offices and forcing themselves from their cars and through our doors, speak to the collision of unthinkable decisions made against impossible options: the only thing more unthinkable than leaving is staying, and the only thing more impossible than staying is leaving. Most men approach our first consultations more curious about what they will get, or keep, than concerned over what they’ll lose. Most women approach our first consultations wondering only how much more they will lose before it’s all over. Most of our consultations with men begin with a battery of questions. Most of our consultations with women begin in silence and for these women even silence has a sound: the sound of disappearance.
I lecture frequently to college students, pre-law majors mostly, and when I describe my practice I inevitably answer one, common question: “Why women?” For years I tried to answer from an academic perspective, explaining the psychology behind a gender-based law practice, speaking to differential socializations – to subtle differences in child rearing that leave men to demand but leave women to ask – and to why the women who manage our households, raise our children, cook our meals and run our lives are still uncomfortable at the idea of asserting themselves to protect their given rights throughout the divorce process. Often I spoke to rooms filled with eyes glazed by boredom.
Recently I changed my approach, when speaking to 43 undergrads, of whom I asked three (3) simple questions by show of hands: First: “How many of you have divorced parents?” – thirty-five hands raised; Second: “How many of you have ever heard your Father say something like ‘I’m not giving her anything?” – fourteen hands fell, leaving twenty-one hands aloft; and, Third: “How many of you have ever heard your Mother ask something like ‘how much can I ask him to give me?’ or say something like ’he will get so angry if I ask for the house, for the car, for child support?’” – all thirty hands returned. I most remember one particular girl who sat silent and crying in a room filled with her classmates and who, when pressed, remarked “my mother was so scared we would lose everything.” I’ll never forget her face nor how, then, I concluded my lecture:
“To all the women in the room, until you stop asking permission to share in the life that you worked hard to build with your husband, until you start treating yourself as his equal, or better – and you are – your husband won’t view you as his equal. To all the men in the room, no matter what you think, read or hear you don’t own everything. If you treat your wife like crap, inevitably you’ll meet someone like me and emerge far worse for having done so. And to everyone in the room, the truest measure of your value as a human being lies in your ability to treat the person you once promised to love and cherish forever with the kindness and compassion befitting a promise given by one who is impeccable to their word, even during the hard times.”
Early in my career I had the great fortune to be mentored by an unforgettable older lawyer who, time and again, admonished: If you do what you love and love what you do so much that you would do it for free, you will always be happy as a lawyer.
Foremost, we are divorce lawyers for women.
. Sarah Dessen, What Happened To Goodbye, Penguin Group – © 2011.
. Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray Love, Viking Books – © 2006.
. Suzanne Finnamore, Split: A Memoir Of Divorce, Penguin Group – © 2008.