I was reminded of this recently when a client I represented in a Collaborative divorce five years ago sent me a note. I have always remembered him because of the great shift in his attitude toward his wife by the time the case was over. When we began his divorce, he stated in an early meeting that the couple’s property should be divided in his favor, since he had always earned more than his wife (which is NOT the way the law looks at it). The statement was not well-received, either by his wife OR her attorney.
The couple had been married more than 30 years. As the case drew to a close, it became obvious that her job at a prominent Minnesota corporation, her debt-free house, and the even division of their property and substantial retirement assets would provide for her just fine. The only question left was spousal maintenance. We often see a spouse who doesn’t need financial assistance waiving maintenance—in fact, often the couple mutually agree to take jurisdiction over maintenance away from the court altogether, for all time. When I asked whether she had given any thought to waiving maintenance, she glanced at her veteran lawyer, then shyly said she would waive it. In the next instant, we were all stunned to hear my nuts-and-bolts, cut-and-dried, professional engineer client say, in a voice of genuine warmth, “I don’t think you should do that. You never know. You might need it some day.”
Approaching the end of their marriage as a family-centered problem-solving exercise, rather than a combat, allowed this wife to give up a claim I would have assumed she would keep. And it allowed her husband to decline her offer, in the interest of her potential long-term welfare, a gesture no one would have predicted. Their mutual trust of each other, reaffirmed during their weeks of working together, ultimately allowed them both to make decisions that considered each other’s welfare as much as their own.