The Truth Hurts
Thank you for printing the letter written by Rabbi Frankel in last week’s issue. I read and reread it and found it to be intellectually honest and thought-provoking. I especially appreciated the fact that it was heartfelt and nonjudgmental. When I read the original letters written by irate women, my feeling was that when we read something that gets us so badly riled up and hits so hard, it’s best to ask ourselves why we are so affected by what we are reading. Perhaps the truth hurts, whether or not we admit to ourselves that there might be truth to the words. I find that we have become so accustomed to feel-good Judaism, subjective Judaism, picking and choosing the halachot that make us feel comfortable and “okay,” that we have come to cheat our children of the pride they ought to feel in authentic Judaism. Thank you for pointing out that tzniyus is halachah like everything else, no less important than the halachot of Shabbos. A friend once told me that she wishes she could post signs in every local shop that say, “Ladies, please dress the way you’d want me to dress if your husband or son was standing behind me in line!”
Thanks again for a great read.
To Divorce Litigation
David Seidemann’s description of a divorce case in his article titled “Fight to the Finish” (November 29), where spouses turned into enemies, concerned with besting each other to the exclusion of all else, is unfortunately not an unusual occurrence for those who choose to go to court to get divorced. After all, when one goes to court, it is “to win,” and for someone to win, it only stands to reason that all must be done to make sure the other will “lose.”
Actually, with divorce litigation, what happens more often than not is that both parties lose. They lose significant sums of money which could be better spent on their futures (in the case cited in the article, over $300,000), as well as the significant amount of time the litigation takes (it can take years due to depositions, motions, interrogatories, postponements, conferences, court schedules), preventing parties from expeditiously putting the unpleasantness of divorce behind them and “moving on” with their lives.
Perhaps the biggest losers in a litigated divorce, however, are the innocent children. The children, who by no means initiated or asked for the divorce, are often the collateral damage. The literature on children of divorce clearly articulates that what is really bad for such kids is parental conflict. The children need to be shielded from conflict and allowed, even encouraged, to comfortably continue to have a relationship with each of their parents, supported by the other parent. But how can this happen when the parents are battling each other in court?
There are alternatives to litigated divorces—reasonable, more affordable, less time-consuming alternatives. Divorce mediation and collaborative divorce are two such alternatives. In the case of mediation, the parties are assisted by the mediator to cooperatively reach resolution on all the matters they must decide, to be able to move forward with separate lives. The mediator is neutral and will facilitate a discussion on the various parenting and financial issues. The parties are expected to fully disclose all financial information, will sign that they have done so, and will bring relevant documents to the mediation session.
Financial specialists and other subject-matter specialists, such as forensic accountants, tax advisers, and real-estate appraisers, can be engaged to provide information as needed, just as they would in a litigated divorce. Mediation sessions are confidential, encouraging the openness required for them to be successful. The mediator helps to ensure that the discussions remain civil, constructive, and balanced and that any agreements reached seem reasonable to both parties. Mediators are not permitted to provide legal advice, but will provide legal information when pertinent. Participants are encouraged to seek legal counsel before, during, or after the mediation, but this is ultimately their decision.
Collaborative divorce is similar to mediation in that the process treats divorce as a series of joint decisions to be made, rather than a fight to win. In collaborative divorce, the parties are represented by separate counsel who meet with each other and the parties and attempt to work out an agreement. Subject-matter specialists are included in the sessions as needed, and at times a coach/facilitator is also retained. The parties as well as the attorneys are committed to resolving the matter out of court. If the parties decide to go to court, the attorneys must withdraw and the parties retain new counsel.
Collaborative divorce is a good alternative to mediation if one feels an advocate would be helpful. Collaborative divorce is usually more expensive than mediation, but cheaper than litigation.
It is often a divorcing person’s first instinct to go to court. It seems to make sense. The stakes are high—custody, child support, spousal support, division of assets and debts are all weighty issues. So, fight it out and the court will determine what should take place. But does this approach really make sense? Why give all that power to the court? Isn’t it better for parents to jointly determine the various family issues, such as when the children should be with each parent, who should pay for yeshiva education, or what extracurricular activities a child should attend, rather than a judge who doesn’t know the family? Why take a difficult situation and make it worse?
The parties are very vulnerable at this time. Emotions are high—anger with one’s spouse, fear of the unknown future, disappointment about losing a partner one had thought would be there forever. This is a time for rabbis, relatives, and friends to be there, to talk candidly to the parties, appealing to the reason that is buried somewhere inside them. They should gently ask them to consider what is more important: Getting back at their spouse, or putting the money aside for their child’s college? Fighting in court, or protecting their children from tension and potential long-term damage? They should suggest that court might not be the best first choice, but rather a choice of last resort. If one party is abusive, or if mediation or collaborative law has been tried and one party is unyielding, court is probably a good option. Otherwise, alternatives to court will likely meet their needs and those of their children much better.
Sarah Samuels, M.A., M.Sc.
Fire Chiefs Endorse
We are writing this letter to ask you to support Commissioner David Stern as he seeks re-election for another term as a Woodmere Fire District Commissioner. David has been an active member for 19 years as a firefighter and New York State Emergency Medical Technician, holding the ranks of both lieutenant and captain. Although it is not publicized, Commissioner Stern’s contributions as a firefighter, EMT, and commissioner have undoubtedly saved lives and put the Woodmere Fire Department in the forefront of emergency response.
Along with Commissioner Stern’s feats as a commissioner, he is also a decorated firefighter and EMT receiving lifesaving awards. More recently, during Superstorm Sandy, while his own house was flooded, Commissioner Stern manned the fire trucks, ambulances, and rescue boats without regard for his own life, safety, and property so you, the resident of the Woodmere Fire Department Protection District, can be safe. Commissioner Stern, along with his fellow brother and sister firefighters, helped in the rescue of over 100 civilians during the hurricane and the days after.
In conclusion, the Chiefs’ Office of the Woodmere Volunteer Fire Department asks you all to come out to the Fire Department building at 20 Irving Place in Woodmere on December 10, 2013 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and vote for Commissioner David Stern. We thank you for your support. And if you have an emergency, do not hesitate to call us at 516-374-2000—you most likely will see a firefighter with the last name “STERN” printed on the back of his firefighter gear.
Thank you for your support!
Leonard J. Cherson, Chief of Department
Benjamin J. Horowitz, First Deputy Chief
Benjamin J. Nelson, Second Deputy Chief
Woodmere Volunteer Fire Department