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The Divorce Party, part 2

I had previously posted about a service for divorce parties in Montreal.  Either this phenomenon has spread, or it existed in places I haven’t seen.  From CNN:

Divorce ceremonies for healing … maybe a toaster

By Elizabeth Bougerol


Charlotte Eulette donned a shiny cocktail dress for her divorce celebration to reflect her goal to “shine on.”

(LifeWire) — Charlotte Eulette of Montclair, New Jersey, ceremoniously reclaimed her maiden name and slipped a ring from her mother on her newly bare wedding ring finger.

Cathryn Michon hit the Los Angeles restaurant Mr. Chow with some friends who’d brought divorce gifts.

In Las Vegas, reality-show regular Shanna Moakler served a three-tiered gateau — complete with knife-wielding-bride cake topper (and matching dead groom) — to attendees after her (first) split from Travis Barker.

If just discussing divorce in public seemed taboo a few years ago, the growing trend of divorce celebrations is helping lessen the stigma surrounding the end of marriage.

“Yes, it’s sad and it’s painful, but it’s not failure,” says Christine Gallagher, the owner of Los Angeles event company The Divorce Party Planner and the author of a book by the same name. “It’s part of life, and yet it’s the only major event for which we have no ritual.

“A celebration communicates that divorce is OK — life-affirming, even.”

Michon, 38, agrees. “It’s like an Irish wake. Just because there’s been a death doesn’t mean you can’t have food and drink, acknowledge the past and hope good things for the future. It’s about closure.”

Bearing witness, wedding-style

“At a wedding, you gather friends and family around and say, ‘Support us on this journey,'” says Eulette, 49, whose 2003 post-split bash was attended by the same klatch of far-flung friends and relatives as her wedding. “A divorce ceremony is a way to gather them around and say, ‘I’m moving on. Please support me.'”

And that support, says Michon, is also practical in nature. “If you split up, someone’s getting the blender and someone’s not,” she says. “My own celebration was a way for my friends to say, ‘We love you no matter what, and by the way, here are a few appliances you’re missing.’

“Believe me, a toaster means a lot more when your heart’s broken than on your wedding day,” says Michon, a writer, who recently organized a divorce registry at Target for another friend. “Especially if you’re out thousands of dollars in legal fees.”

Divorce parties: One size doesn’t fit all

Just as no two weddings are alike, divorcees are seeking out (or creating from scratch) marriage-ending markers that resonate with them.

In Britain, the Great Northern Firework Company offers a divorce-package fireworks display. Godammo.com will melt and mold your wedding ring into a (gunpowder-free) bullet, and WeddingRingCoffin.com sells just that: a practical, dignified way to bury your dead marriage’s hardware.

“Burning is big,” says Gallagher, who’s seen everything from wedding dresses to a husband’s trophy deer head go up in flames at divorce celebrations organized by her event-planning outfit. The parties — two or three per month — serve up signature cocktails with names like the So Long and the Sucker, split-themed soundtracks (“Hit the Road, Jack” and “I Will Survive” are popular) and dartboards adorned with the ex’s face.

“A divorce party makes more sense than a bachelor party,” says Marc Tadros of Montreal V.I.P., whose luxury divorce getaways have drawn customers, about 20 percent of them female, from as far away as Ireland and Germany. “It’s a good time to blow off steam, work on your social networking skills.”

Focusing on the future

“Having six or 10 martinis may work for some people, but mine wasn’t an ex-bashing ceremony,” says Joann Lane, 50, a wedding officiant whose party took place five years after the divorce and was attended by the couple’s four sons, along with her current and former boyfriends.

“I wanted to acknowledge the good that came out of the marriage, and let go of the anguish.”

In that spirit, Eulette’s foundation (and her full-time job) Celebrants USA, which is devoted to celebrating life’s milestones, organizes 10 to 15 divorce events each year to help people craft rituals that have meaning for them. One of Eulette’s clients celebrated his divorce by gluing back together a broken glass, in a reversal of the Jewish tradition of smashing a glass at the end of the wedding ceremony.

“It’s not a hullabaloo; it’s about healing and transition,” Eulette says. “And everyone has their own story in a divorce — there’s no blueprint for moving forward like there is with marriage.”

Ottawa wellness counselor Lucy MacDonald cautions divorcées to consider their motives in hosting a celebration, and not to overlook the key to emotional recovery after divorce: forgiveness, of oneself and one’s ex.

“If you’re feeling bitter, angry or antagonistic, a divorce party may bring out the worst in you,” warns MacDonald. “But if you’ve accepted your divorce as the next step in your growth as a person, your party is a signal to everyone that you’re OK and looking to the future.”

Trials and Tribulations…the Pitfalls of Going to Court

Often, the BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement; one of the core principles from “Getting to Yes”) in a lawsuit-based mediation is a trial in a court of law. Some trials are bench trials (where a judge makes the decision on the outcome, such as in a divorce) and others are jury trials (where in NJ, 5 of 6 jurors[your peers] have to agree on an outcome. As most attorneys will say, trials and trial outcomes are a crap shoot.

There are two reasons as to why this is largely the case. First, trials are performances. The lawyers, clients and witnesses are all putting on performances in court. They are all humans. They all have good days and bad days. Perception is everything in court as to credibility of those giving testimony and attorneys. Second, every human being has prejudices and built in biases. We all see the world through the filters that have been taught to us by our parents and peers growing up and our cumulative experiences. Judges and jurors are humans with these biases. A jury is somewhat randomly selected…as one of my colleagues likes to point out, they are the 6 people standing in line behind you at Wal-mart or Target. It’s a crap shoot as to who you get and voir dire (the process of selecting a jury and questioning jurors about their backgrounds and biases) can only peel back some of the layers of bias of a potential juror, not all of them.

If trials and the legal process were cut and dried, there would be no need for appeals, appellate division and the Supreme Courts. But we have them because errors are made and court decisions are often overturned (which consumes a lot of time and money to do so).

Here’s an interesting thing to ponder. Why does the same case — which has the same facts — when tried more than once (either through a mistrial/hung jury, or on remand from an appeal) often have differing outcomes?

In today’s Rocky Mountain News, an article enumerates on some recent high profile criminal trials which went more than once and their various outcomes. Here’s an excerpt:

Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco International Ltd.; Mark Swartz, former Tyco chief financial officer

* Accusations: Kozlowski and Swartz were charged in September 2002 with stealing $170 million from Tyco by abusing corporate loan programs and taking unauthorized bonuses and by taking $430 million more by selling stock at prices artificially inflated by misstatements about company finances.

* First trial: Ended in mistrial in April 2004 after several news organizations published a juror’s name during deliberations, and the juror told the judge she received a threatening letter and phone call.

* Second trial: Prosecutors tightened their case and spent far less time on Kozlowski’s extravagant lifestyle.

* Results: Both men were convicted June 17, 2005, of grand larceny, conspiracy, securities fraud and falsifying records.

Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth

* Accusation: Prosecutors accused Scrushy of masterminding a $2.7 billion accounting fraud at HealthSouth Corp. to inflate the company’s stock price.

* First trial: Acquitted by a Birmingham, Ala., jury in June 2005, despite the 15 guilty pleas from other former HealthSouth executives who implicated Scrushy.

* Second trial: Six Alabama charges of bribery, mail fraud and conspiracy. Defense lawyers denounced the case as a sour-grapes effort to win a conviction.

* Results: In June 2006, Scrushy was convicted of paying $500,000 of bribes to former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.

Frank Quattrone, former investment banker at Credit Suisse in New York

* Accusation: Prosecutors said Quattrone hindered the government’s investigation of Zurich-based Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second-largest bank, by endorsing a subordinate’s e-mail that advised employees to “clean up” their files. The government said he sent the message, suggesting that subordinates destroy records, after learning that a grand jury was probing how Credit Suisse doled out IPO shares.

* First trial: Hung jury in October 2003.

* Second trial: Conviction for obstruction of justice and witness tampering in May 2004.

* Results: Conviction reversed on appeal. Prosecutors decided not to re-try him and dropped the case in August 2007.

While criminal trials have a far greater burden of proof than civil trials do, the point of risk at trial is analogous.  In a later posting, I will give an example of a civil case which was tried 3 times with 3 different outcomes.

The BATNA in a civil case is a negotiated agreement.  Your risk goes to zero since you agree to the parameters of the settlement.  Your costs also go down as trials are costly; lawyers, trial preparation and experts all cost money.  And they cost the same amount of money if you win or lose.  Plus, litigants also often forget about the other costs, namely your time and emotions/aggravation factor.  These are all legitimate.  There are large costs to “prove” you’re right.

This is why mediation has gone mainstream and is accepted as a way to resolve disputes, whether they be commercial or family in nature. If you want to avoid the risk of a trial and going to court, feel free to contact me to see how mediation can help.

Let It Be…the McCartney-Mills Divorce

The news reports today that a British court has ruled in the divorce of Sir Paul McCartney and his wife of 4 years, Heather Mills. Mills was awarded $48.6 million. Some excerpts:

Mills declared herself “very, very, very pleased” with a payout that amounted to about $34,000 for each day of her four-year marriage. But some legal experts were surprised the former model, who has been widely portrayed in the British media as a gold-digger, did not get more.

“In the scheme of things, it’s quite surprisingly low,” said Patricia Hollings, a divorce specialist with London law firm Finers Stephens Innocent. “It is only offering her about 6 percent of his assets. In terms of high-wealth cases it’s very low.”

A Family Court judge awarded Mills a lump sum of $33 million, plus the assets she currently holds, worth $15.6 million. Mills had sought almost $250 million, according to a summary of the ruling; McCartney had offered $31.6 million, including Mills’ own assets.

The settlement was at the low end of many experts’ estimates, which varied between $50 million and $100 million. The brevity of the marriage, and the fact most of the former Beatle’s fortune was made before he met Mills were factors considered by the judge.

Mills, 40, raised eyebrows by firing her legal team late last year and representing herself in court, but legal experts said that was unlikely to have been a factor in the award.

“I don’t regret representing myself,” Mills said outside court. “I’m just glad it’s over.”

“All of you that have researched know that it was always going to be a figure between 20 and 30 million” pounds, said a visibly agitated Mills. “Paul was offering a lot less than that … So we’re very, very, very pleased.”

McCartney also was ordered to pay $70,000 a year for his daughter, and to pay for the child’s nanny and school fees.

British divorce settlements are generally lower than U.S. ones. But Mills’ payout is only about half the biggest contested divorce settlement in British history — $90 million that insurance tycoon John Charman was ordered to pay his wife of almost 30 years in 2006.

Geraldine Morris, a lawyer and editor with LexisNexis Butterworths Family Law Service, said the judge had probably taken into account the relative brevity of the Mills-McCartney union.

“Whilst Sir Paul McCartney’s wealth is substantial, the majority of his assets where acquired prior to the marriage and in that regard the case differs substantially from the case of Charman … where the family wealth was built up during a very lengthy marriage,” Morris said.

[McCartney and Mills] insisted they were in love [at the time of their marriage], and McCartney said they had not signed a prenuptial agreement.

The couple went to court last month to decide on Mills’ share of his fortune, which had been estimated at as much as $1.6 billion.

Judge Hugh Bennett, however, found that McCartney’s total worth, including business assets, was about $800 million.

When Mills and McCartney separated, they insisted the split was “amicable” and said “both of us still care about each other very much.”

However, this is not the most expensive celebrity divorce. Forbes magazine estimates the Michael and Juanita Jordan pending divorce settlement to be in the $150 million range while Neil Diamond’s divorce in 1994 came out about the same.

One thing to note here is that neither side in the McCartney-Mills case got what they were demanding and they spent a lot of time and money in doing so.

U.S. Government Resurrects 23,000 people in the last 2 years

WSMV in Nashville has a story about a woman who has been declared dead on and off for the last 8 years.  But it isn’t doctors who are making the declarations.  It’s the U.S. government in the form of the Social Security Administration.  In fact, a government audit found that some 23,000 people had been declared “un-dead” over the last 2 years.  This creates a mess for the people this happens to.  Not only do they have to file the paperwork to reverse what is a clerical error, but they have to have the error fixed in other governemnt agencies such as the IRS.  If you’ve been declared dead, you cannot get a tax refund or the upcoming rebate checks.  Since the SSA releases (or sells) all their information about people they have declared deceased (i.e. to Ancestry.com), there is now the possibility for identity theft.

Dying is truly a bad thing…even when you’re not really dead.

More divorce resources

If you’re divorcing or contemplating it, John Spiegel, a divorce mediator in Maryland, has a number of excellent videos explaining what divorce mediation is as dealing with the children in a divorce (and other items).  His videos can be found here.

Dealing With Divorce…A Divorce Resource

If you’re divorcing or contemplating one, you may find this video helpful.  In it, a divorced father, a divorced mother, a therapist and my mediation colleague, Anju Jessani discuss divorce and its effects, particularly dealing with children.

If you want more information about divorce mediation, please feel free to contact me at 732-963-2299 or use the contact form.