“Love your enemies.” These words of Jesus haunted me during my 35-year career as a divorce lawyer. I felt that I was part of a system that fostered the opposite – a system that turned people who once loved each other into enemies.
I had chosen the profession of law because of a deep-seated respect for our legal system, and a desire to help people. As an idealist, I believed that “the law” – in a democratic republic such as ours – is the sine qua non of a civilized society. Law enables us to substitute words, wisdom and reason for weapons, fisticuffs, or abusive language. The courts provide a safe container for adversaries to engage in conflict.
That’s what I thought. Then I became a divorce lawyer.
The courts are adversarial: their goal is to bring justice to light by pitting opposing parties and competing arguments against each other. Justice is served, the theory goes, because the party with the most compelling argument “wins.”
Unfortunately, when dissolving a marriage, this adversarial system – rather than containing the conflict – prolongs and intensifies it. Divorce court hardly provides “a safe container” for conflict. There, cross-examination, “dirty tricks” and personal attacks deepen the conflict (and generate monumental attorneys’ fees!).
I became a divorce lawyer to help people through a traumatic time in their lives. The problem was – I was part of a system that was exacerbating the trauma! More and more, I was feeling that – by participating in the adversarial system – I was the problem. I was pretty miserable.
Then I discovered Collaborative Divorce.
Collaborative divorce is a settlement process invented in 1990 by Minneapolis divorce attorney Stuart Webb. Stu is a Buddhist. The aggressive tactics lawyers use when negotiating a divorce settlement in the adversarial system just didn’t align with his non-violent Buddhist principles. After trying several alternatives, Stu invented a new way of practicing divorce law – Collaborative Divorce.
Collaborative is a respectful process that actually heals conflict in divorces. A process in which lawyers are peacemakers and healers! A process that gives divorcing spouses – who often have come to see one another as enemies – that “safe container” for their anger and conflict. Adversarial divorce lawyers measure success by who “wins,” and for how much. In collaborative, success is a resolution that works for both parties. From my perspective, after years of practicing divorce litigation and collaboration, it is the collaborative ex-spouses who “win” in the long term.
Through the collaborative process, a divorcing spouse can, indeed, “love his/her enemy.” Not in the emotional sense of the love, but in Jesus’ sense of agape-love – when one makes a deliberate choice not to willfully hurt another individual. This is not sentimental pie in the sky – I have seen it happen many, many times in my collaborative practice over the past 12 years.
So, I am profoundly grateful to a Buddhist, Stu Webb, who created the way I now live out my faith in my profession.
Arnold D. Cribari is a divorce lawyer and mediator with a practice in White Plains, NY. He is a member of the Yorktown Presbyterian Church.