Monday, November 27, 2006


There is a real difference in the Heartland of this country and the West coast.

Today at our management meeting, our boss told a joke. "Why does divorce cost so much?" it began.

Now, all of us, who work with nothing but divorce all day long, and sometimes we even dream about it if there is a particularly knotty file sitting on our desk, all of us were stumped. There was a delicious (to the teller of joke) pause (which felt to all of the rest of us like we'd missed something, or maybe it was true what our first grade teacher had said, maybe we really were stupid). None of us answered.

I assure you this was not because any of us were afraid of blurting out the answer to the boss's joke. We were truly stumped. We don't stand on that sort of ceremony in our office. The Boss, we know, puts his pants on like the rest of us: quickly in the winter because we all keep our thermostats at about 55 degrees.

But when I asked my friend Joe, who lives in LA, "Why does divorce cost so much?" thinking I was going to tell a really good joke and that he would laugh when I had to tell him the punchline, and he immediately answered,

"because it's worth it," and he didn't even chuckle. He knew the goddamn punchline that none of us-- two lawyers, two MBA's and an MSW-- could figure out. Joe didn't even finish high school, but he lives and works in LA.

The only way I could rescue a comedic moment is to say, "Oh, I can't wait to tell my boss that there are audiences that wouldn't even pause on that one," and Joe graciously laughed at that.

Maybe it really is that we take our relationships more seriously here, and that it doesn't instantly occur to us that divorce is anything but a terrific tragedy to be avoided. There are obviously people who, parenthetically, live in a place where they might actually tomorrow slide into the Pacific Ocean if the earth rumbles a bit, don't think there's anything but value to a divorce.

Or maybe I am being a little harsh. Maybe they are just more funny than the rest of us out there. Or maybe when you do it for a living, if you actually live and breathe divorce all day long, it isn't instantly clear to you why people might acutally pay a lawyer a great deal of money to split things up. People up. Children up.

I used to do that for a living. People would actually say things to me like, "I'd rather pay you a thousand dollars than pay him one penny."

I like it much better now that I can say to people, "Maybe you need to be the bigger parent. The only one who suffers is your four year old son if you decide he can't see his dad until the hearing." And that mom actually thanked me for saying that, today, with tears in her eyes.

So, in a sense, it's true this joke, a divorce costs a lot because it's worth it.

But who really pays?


The Curmudgeon said...

There are good reasons to get a divorce; I've seen situations in my own extended family where divorce was not only appropriate but necessary.

But you are so right: Too often, it's a very high price paid by the kids.

East of Oregon said...

Thank you for sharing that .. it's an important perspective to remember for a child.

Cynthia Bostwick said...

Curmudgeon and East:

I absolutely agree that divorce is often necessary: my own parents are an example of that. And my siblings. But my new job has certainly taught me that kids fair better when it's handled humanely: that is when both parents acknowledge a child's right to love each of them, and each makes a place for the child that's safe to love the other parent. It's very hard to do that in the midst of the emotional crisis of a divorce, but it's essential that parents rise to the challenge. We are, after all, the grownups.

Thanks for your comments!