Love and War in the Time of Divorce


Let’s be honest – divorce is hard.  For most, it is a war of inner emotions.  It is grieving the loss of someone you loved and the future you had been planning for.  It is fear about the new unknown future.  It can be anger at feeling betrayed.  It can be relief from a relationship that has become distant or bitter.  It can be guilt for making the decision to divorce.  And it all can be very emotionally confusing.

Some experts report that it is harder to grieve the loss of a spouse in divorce than it is the death of a close family member.  Death is finite; it’s going to happen to all of us.  But no one goes into a marriage expecting to divorce.  And when the legal divorce process is over, you see your ex-spouse move on with his or life, maybe having found another partner; or maybe flourishing in a new environment with new friends or a new career.  It can be emotionally painful to witness.

All of that emotional confusion and pain has a tendency to activate our fight or flight reaction.  Some people react by withdrawing – “you take everything; I don’t want it.”  And others respond in just the opposite way – “I want everything” – in an effort to punish their soon-to-be ex-spouse.  These are not reactions driven by the part of our brain that controls decision-making and reasoning, but rather are the result of the part of our brain that controls unconscious decisions about safety and security.  And this is how two people who were once in love, planning to spend the rest of their lives together, end up in a legal war to end their marriage.

Divorce does not have to be a war.  Unfortunately, our legal system is traditionally set up in such a way so that two married people have to be litigants in a legal fight, suing one another to divide legal rights to their children and determine how property, money, and debt will be divided.  Our legal system was designed for contract disputes and personal injury cases, not adjudicating love and rights to children.  But luckily, our society is finally starting to realize that we need a better solution for families that doesn’t require them to enter into legal war to get divorced.

Collaborative Divorce is one of those options.  In this divorce process, each spouse and their attorneys together sign a Collaborative Divorce contract that at its core says “we’re not going to litigate against one another.”  It is a private process that takes place away from public courtrooms and if necessary, employs the use of jointly retained professionals, such as a financial professional and a communications specialist, to help the spouses and their attorneys navigate through the issues to resolve in the divorce.  In short, it helps spouses stay in the space of making reasoned, well-thought-out decisions for their future and that of their children, rather than reactive, emotional choices from the part of their brain that makes immediate fight or flight decisions.  In other words, spouses engage in constructive negotiation rather than unproductive war, resulting in a settlement that is specifically designed for your family and not a cookie-cutter solution imposed by the courts.

Rhonda Cleaves is a Credentialed Collaborative Divorce Attorney in Plano.  While most of her clients are from the north Texas counties of Collin, Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant counties, she is licensed to practice law throughout the State of Texas and offers video conferencing services to accommodate clients around the state.  To learn more about how a Collaborative Divorce works, go to her website at, or call for a consultation at (972) 403-0333.

Rhonda Cleaves

Rhonda began practicing law in 1995. She left a successful civil trial practice in 2005 to concentrate on family law — specifically, helping families transition to postdivorce life. She now practices exclusively in this area.

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