If you’ve watched more than one episode of Dateline, you know that almost all one-on-one, non-gang related shootings are family members shooting other family members.
I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m being dramatic. I’m not. We only hurt the ones we love, and sometimes that includes firearms. Particularly during a divorce or separation, or custody battle.
On October 12, 2011, a gunman wearing body armor went into a beauty salon in sleepy Dana Point, California, and shot 8 people. According to Wikipedia, the suspected shooter was involved in a contested custody battle with his former wife, who worked at the salon.
On October 21, 2011, “a mother in suburban Dallas fatally shot her 7-year-old son and then killed herself… as police waited outside with her estranged husband, who was there to pick up the child after receiving court-ordered custody…. The father had been given sole custody of the boy after an acrimonious and drawn-out divorce.”
December 24, 2008, a man dressed as Santa Claus went to his former in-laws’ home and killed 9 people, including his former wife (they’d been divorced 6 days before) at a Christmas party. He had no record and no history of violence. [I just Googled “Santa Claus shooting” and multiple entries for multiple cities showed up.]
A week before his divorce trial was set to begin, on October 18, 2011, “Samuel Friedlander, by appearances a successful lawyer [in Westchester, New York]… killed his wife and children before shooting himself…. As the trial grew closer, acquaintances told investigators, Mr. Friedlander’s behavior became erratic…. Michael Borg, 47, who went to law school with Mr. Friedlander, said his friend had complained that his wife was controlling and emotionally abusive. ‘He was depressed,’ Mr. Borg said. ‘He was beaten, and his big fear was that she was going to take the kids away.'”
If you don’t get upset about family problems, it seems to me that you don’t get upset.
It’s not a mystery why most courthouse shootings are in family court, not criminal court.
When you’re talking about a divorce, you’re talking about everything that means anything at all in the world to you: your children, your future, your home, your dreams for your marriage, what you thought you believed about love.
The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s “I don’t care.” And the intimate partner violence statistics support that statement very vividly.
But getting to the “I don’t care” stage in a divorce is often a long time coming. Some people never move through the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance to a point where they get to “I don’t care.” For some, the divorce simply consumes their lives and prevents them from moving productively into the future. For others, it results in tragedy with much higher stakes.
And the upset and despair that one feels while getting divorced transcends all socio-economic bounds. We suffer alike. No amount of money can soothe the wounds. The death of a dream of a life together as a happy couple and family hurts us all to the core.
I became a divorce mediator and quit my litigation practice when I saw the death and destruction that litigated divorces caused. And I’m not exaggerating. I had a custody battle client who killed herself, and client’s estranged wife who attempted suicide after I got a winning Judgment against her in a divorce matter. If half of the US married population goes through a divorce, I knew there had to be a better way.
They don’t give you a mental exam before you get married (although plenty of people wonder what they were thinking after the ceremony). We can’t predict how people will react when the going gets tough. <strong>But we can take better care of ourselves</strong> in a divorce situation.
We can understand that:
- A divorce is not the end of the world
- A divorce is not a commentary on our character
- Sometimes marriages just don’t work out, and it’s nobody’s fault
- You can celebrate the good times in your marriage and remember it was not always a tense battlefield
- You can focus on your children and their wellbeing
- You can treat the other person with respect and kindness, even if they don’t deserve it at the moment
- You can stop blame, shame and guilt, and just move on from here
And to stay out of legal trouble, you can:
- Get mental health counseling when you need support
- Ask for help from sensible friends, family members, and professionals
- Take a co-parenting class or see a co-parenting counselor or coach if you’re struggling with the adjustment from between being co-parents and marital partners
- Use a Divorce Mission Statement to stay on the right path
- Mediate your divorce instead of litigate
- Work with a collaborative divorce team to resolve issues if mediation doesn’t world
- Ask for help when you need it
Although the mass murder example is extreme, it’s all too common. We don’t need to suffer like this, and we don’t need to do this to each other.
Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, . She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011). Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.