Recently, Courteney Cox of Friends fame and her husband David Arquette filed for divorce, almost simultaneously. Neither hired an attorney – at least not yet. It would seem to be an amicable divorce in the making.
From my experience as a divorce lawyer, I know an amicable divorce is a much desired state of affairs. Everyone wants one, but few are able to pull it off.
Why is being amicable so difficult?
The problems that arise in a divorce are not really about good intentions or the love that can remain between partners who are no longer “in love.” The problem is that “amicable,” like beautiful, is in the eyes of the beholder.
Even harder to spot is the elusive concept of fairness. Reviewing only the public information about Courteney Cox and David Arquette, it would appear that she is more successful. Toward the end of the Friends run, she was reputedly earning over $1 million an episode. In contrast, her husband has been in a few films, but, on balance, is more famous AS Courtney Cox’s husband than he is in and of himself.
While David and Courteney may be stars of greater or lesser magnitude, the problems they face regarding “fairly” dividing the assets amassed during the marriage is a universal problem for every couple trying for amicability.
What does fairness mean?
Is it fair that everyone’s assets simply be divided 50/50? Is it true that the lower earner “needs” the money more and may never again have the opportunity to be in such a lucrative “partnership?” On the other hand, should the greater share of the assets be distributed to the bigger breadwinner because she (in this case) worked harder, earned more and contributed more?
We are unlikely to worry about either Courteney Cox or David Arquette because both of them will be economically fine, but can they or any couple really maintain friendship and unanimity when it comes to negotiating each of their individual best interests for the next separate chapter of their lives?
Children and other complications
Couples with a child or children find another complication in being fair. If the lesser breadwinner says, “I will step back and take less,” will he or she then be less able to provide for their child? Is it possible, God forbid, that the lesser earner could be less popular with their child who finds that life at one household is much more comfortable or even lavish than with the other?
Further roadblocks to amicability arise with the opinions of “friends and family.” At a point when a couple is breaking up and having enough trouble keep their own emotions in check and approaching money rationally, they find there is an entire Greek chorus of concerned friends and parents in the background. Each member of the divorcing person’s family and friends will have strongly held and loudly voiced opinions about “fairness” even if they are NOT asked. It is hard to think clearly in the midst of all the “background noise.”
But the biggest obstacle to amicable divorces is that the heart of each party is a little bit broken. Emotions ebb and flow as to the death of the dream, whose fault was it anyway, and “if only.” Even two people who are firmly and completely convinced that they need to live their lives apart will have moments of second thoughts or happy memories, and their feelings will not always be in sync.
The temptation is to use the financial settlement to punish each other for not being “on the same page” or to at least stay connected while you argue about money. Even a negative connection is a connection, and for the person having a harder time letting go (and there always is one), it is easy to substitute anger for pain and just keep fighting.
One of my former clients put it this way: “A good divorce takes more maturity than a good marriage.” May Courteney Cox and David Arquette, and in fact every divorcing couple, ever remain “friends” and in the process, provide some real-life role-modeling for what very well may become a new breed of mature divorces.