PART ONE: SETTLEMENT
I am writing this post with full anticipation that a storm of impassioned responses and criticism are likely to follow. I have chosen to write this because I want to open a dialogue and shed light on the spiritual pitfalls of litigious divorces. This post is not about whether divorce is right or wrong, biblical or not, Christian or un-Christian; rather, it is about how Christians who are divorcing go about the legal aspect of divorce. I am no pastor or theologian, just a humble lawyer and mediator who loves Jesus.
This post is also not about whether Christianity is right or wrong, or whether Christian divorce perspectives are right or wrong. My intention is for people who are a part of the Christian community to hear my voice and find their own about how we, as Christians, should navigate the legal act of divorcing. I am publicly communicating this in hopes that individual believers and families will find divorce resolutions principled on grace and love, not vengeance and anger. In turn, if this conversation helps Christians who are going through divorce to feel less isolated or marginalized, then I will rejoice in such a byproduct.
Whew! That felt like I just wrote a legal disclaimer. I’m ready to get to the point now.
When a married couple calls upon the judicial system to legally dissolve their marriage, they are not asking the court to fix people or admonish behavior. Similarly, the court is not usually concerned with the reasons why the couple is getting a divorce. The court’s main role is to divide property, allocate support to spouses in need (if at all), and ensure that children’s best interest are served with a appropriate time-sharing and financial support arrangements. It is not the court’s job to evaluate morality, but rather to interpret the laws of the land.
This reality is crucial to maintaining perspective because otherwise, spouses drift into destructive modes of righteousness, and impossible expectations of the state’s ability to deliver “justice.” To the spouse who is deeply hurt by the betrayal of adultery or addiction, or the spouse who is deeply ashamed of their actions, or the spouse who is wandering in shock that their spouse even asked for a divorce: your real hurt and grief and shame and anger cannot be healed or redeemed by a judge. Find peace with that fact. Even if you get everything you want awarded to you by a judge, you will still walk away with that hurt, grief, shame and anger looming if you are not surrendering the process of true justice to God, and seeking Jesus’ healing and redemption.
When you remove these impossible expectations at the very start of the divorce process, you think more clearly and are able to make decisions from a place of faith in God’s power and not the judge’s.
At the same time, we have some clear guidance in scripture as to how we are to handle conflicts, especially those involving the courts. Seriously, with all the challenges in life that call for deep scriptural inquiry to get to truths, we can be so grateful that the word is so clear here.
In Matthew 5:25, Jesus tells us:
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
About Those Long, Drawn Out Court Battles
I could pretty much stop right here. The end. Thankfully, we have even more, but can we just soak this all in?
Are you reading what I’m reading? Don’t drag this thing out for months or years. Settle matters quickly. As an attorney, I encourage settlement as soon as discovery is complete (or as near completion as you are comfortable with). This means, once you know as much as you can know about each other’s financials, the negotiation process can begin, preferably in the presence of a certified family law mediator. Many courts will require you to go to mediation before the case can proceed to trial anyways. Waiting to get to mediation usually prolongs and intensifies conflict, deepens resentments, and cements resolve…settlement hopes evaporate. Say it again with me,”settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.”
While You Are Still Together On the Way, Or Else.
Even though a divorce is the breaking up of a union, couples still are “together on the way” more than they know. The echoes and remnants of the unifying principles and desires of the once-happy marriage, more often than not, still exist. That is enough. But in the heat of litigation, this fragile thing does not fare well. I can see so clearly the wisdom of Jesus and the x-ray view that He has on our hearts when I read this. He knows our fragile human selves, changed by the love of our Savior, still seeking to extend grace and love, even to the undeserving.
When a new client comes to me, as upset as they are, I can still see a sliver of this “together on the way.” They want to legally divorce but they still have love and grace in their hearts for their spouse. Sadly though, if the case drags on, we lawyers doing our lawyer jobs might have a hand in the swift destruction of this, whether by force or inadvertence. It just happens. It is the nature of the process and usually the fault of no one. Things happen on the other side of this though. Jesus knows the deal: the next part, the “or else”, gets ugly.
The consequences to not settling quickly enough are often getting tossed over to the judge, and maybe even jail time. If that seems far-fetched, I assure you that it is not. Think contempt of court, think violation of injunction (restraining order), or the occasional DUI that pops up during a divorce. But the next part rings loud and true: you might not come out of this without having spent every penny you have. When we shift away from settlement and mutual decision-making and seek a more complicated legal strategy, there will be financial consequences. I’m just glad Jesus put this into words. I promise it will not fix your life to spend all your money on attorney’s fees, even if you end up “winning” in court. This is another important perspective to have in mind, every action in litigation has a reaction, and the costs associated with both will be billed to you.
—————–I think this is just the start of a conversation that we need to have as believers and followers of Christ. I titled this post as Part One: Settlement to leave open this question of what Divorcing the Christian Way? looks like. People in our community are divorcing (reality) and without us talking about these challenges and airing out possible Biblical solutions, we risk losing ground to the enemy and isolating our brothers and sisters when they need us most. I hope my words are received with an open heart and understanding. I want only peace for everyone who passes through the courtroom doors.