Articles on Divorce: Counseling -> Divorce Counseling to Help Transition
by Honorable Anne Kass. Ann Kass is a District Judge in the Second Judicial District State of New Mexico
I often surprise divorcing couples, or couples who were divorced long ago but who are back in court, by suggesting that they get "divorce counseling." The most common reaction is confusion because they don't know there is a difference between "divorce" counseling and "marriage" counseling.
Marriage counseling is aimed at keeping a marriage intact. Divorce counseling is aimed at taking a marriage apart, but doing so with dignity and respect.
Divorce counseling is a good idea for almost everyone. It should be strongly recommended for people who have children, and it should be mandatory for people who get mired in their hurt and anger.
People who are stuck in their hurt and anger often show up in court over-and-over, sometimes year-after-year to argue about issues that often seem silly.
For example, one couple had several court hearings to argue about dog ashes. That's right, dog ashes. During their marriage, they had two dogs; both had died and been cremated. Obviously, the pets had been well-loved members of the family, but these folks spent hundreds of dollars to pay lawyers to file court papers and to go to court to argue about ashes: Who should get the ashes? Did each really get half the ashes? Were the ashes each one got really their dogs' ashes?
Obviously dog ashes weren't the issue. Dog ashes were only the conversation piece, the excuse to continue interacting. Couples like this have a need to stay involved with each other. They seem to have things to say to one another, but they aren't conscious of what it is they need to say. So they talk about dog ashes.
Lawyers and judges aren't trained to help these couples figure out what is at the root of the problem, so lawyers and judges find themselves also talking about dog ashes, with straight faces and in legalese. Generally we are able to find the right legal answer to the dog ashes question, but when we solve the dog ashes problem, these couples come up with a new conversation piece. It may be a crock pot or a rocking chair or whether Christmas visitation should start at 7:00 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. Whatever the conversation piece may be, the legal system is set up in such a way that these couples can keep each other in court practically forever.
The only way to really resolve disputes like these is for the couples to get divorce counseling with a professional counselor who can help them find their way to peace. It's a matter of helping them become aware of their hidden agendas--helping them become conscious of their subconscious needs and pains.
Parents who get divorce counseling save money in the long-run. They also can teach their children valuable skills by role-modeling respectful cooperation and perseverance. Most importantly, they can give their children the invaluable gift of peace.