Two weeks ago I made a room full of a thousand people laugh when accepting the Better Business Bureau Integrity Award by acknowledging the societal irony of a divorce firm winning an integrity award. Laughter and jokes aside, integrity is the single-most factor that has supported my sustained career as a divorce lawyer. But more importantly, it is the most critical characteristic to manage during the divorce process.
Often people come into my office initially searching for a shark. They are looking for an advocate that will squeeze every ounce out of the divorce in their favor. They want to sneakily take advantage of the system by not fully disclosing assets or not telling the truth about parenting roles. The truth behind their desired deceptiveness is that they are scared.
Fear, anger, betrayal, heartache – to name a few – are the feelings that will start to edge out integrity. These are the feelings that make our minds murky and our hearts harden. These emotions bring out haughty indignation as we justify, rationalize, and gather evidence to support our desired lopsided outcome. We can explain away “gifting” money to family members during a divorce that we know will be “gifted” right back to us when the action is complete.
Fortunately, in a divorce action, the law serves to provide a rational basis for our behavior. The law provides that there should be a full disclosure of assets, income, and liabilities to enable an equitable division of property and a fair financial outcome for children and their parents. The judges rely on the lawyers to maintain this integrity and in turn, the lawyers rely on their clients.
In nearly every case I have had over the last 15 years, my clients have been confronted with the ire of integrity. They have been forced to consider how they want to show up in the process. They have looked at what is fair. They have set aside their grief and looked at the question of what is the right thing to do. Despite their survival mode in full gear compelling them in every instance to preserve and protect as much as possible, they have been vulnerable and honest in reaching the right conclusion.
It sounds like this: “I feel really good about this agreement.” “It may not be everything I wanted, but I did the right thing.” “I hate the idea of not being with my kids every single day, but she is a good mom and they need her too.”
In the end, those who have been led by their values instead of their vices, come out of the divorce feeling strengthened and proud of who they are willing to be. They have significantly less regret and are able to move forward with co-parenting and new relationships with less challenge and angst. And while my firm strives to have integrity in every interaction, what I see that matters most, is that my clients are served best by having kept their own integrity intact.