What are ceremonies, generally speaking? Why do we have them? When do we have them? What do they accomplish, if anything?
These questions were brought clearly to my mind when my client, in her collaborative divorce matter, informed me, just before we signed the marital settlement agreement, that she wanted to bring the team together one last time for that purpose, and, more importantly, because she wanted to “perform a ceremony.”
We had not planned to meet again for the signing. Sometimes we do in my collaborative matters, and we certainly do if there are any other tweaks to the agreement that must be made. But if the deal is done, the clients usually want to save the expense of bringing everyone together for that sole purpose.
This was, apparently, a special occasion.
She forbade me from telling anyone why. Naturally, when we next convened, we professionals skipped our pre-brief. They were all stymied, as appeared to be her soon-to-be-ex-husband, who, nevertheless, was there, bewildered but with a smile on his face.
Ceremonies mark important moments in our lives, helping us to better adjust to change. We have weddings, baptisms, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals, all of which mark hugely life-changing events. So why would your divorce be any different? You are not celebrating the end of the relationship; instead, you are memorializing the beginning of the rest of your lives apart from each other. Doing so doesn’t make a mockery of what you had together; instead, it marks how your relationship will be changed going forward.
Ceremonies are important to us as human beings because they contribute to our psychological stability, our sense of identity, and our personal sense of self worth. They reassure us of life’s purposes.
If you include ceremony in your divorce process, you recognize that your lives have changed, and, although divorce is difficult, it’s time to move on, to begin afresh, and to find happiness again. It’s time to realize that you are your own unique, wonderful individual person, not just part of a couple. It helps you to remember what you value as important in your new life, as well as the person you’ve become through both your marriage and this life-altering experience, your divorce.
A ceremony allows us to acknowledge a transition or a rite of passage, whether a new beginning, or the conclusion to a period of time in our lives. As a wedding begins a union, a divorce ends it. A ceremony may help you to gain the closure that you need to move on. While you’re no longer husband and wife, you may be co-parents, or at least value what you had and wish to remain cordial going forward.
Divorce: A New Beginning
So my client had told me beforehand how she wanted the participants seated. She joined us in the conference room last. She, too, was smiling. She had a cardboard box, from which she pulled a gorgeous, woven table runner. As she did, she informed us all that this had been on their formal dining room table for years; it had been gifted to her by her husband while they were pregnant with their first child, now 25 years old. Then she pulled out two candlesticks. These, she informed us, were brand new, gifted to her by that same child after the clients separated. She placed candlesticks in them and lit the candles.
Then she sat down opposite her husband and reached across the table, across the runner, between the candles, her palms up, and asked her husband to place his hands on top of hers. She addressed him, thus (and, without a court reporter, I must paraphrase):
You and I were married on July 4, 1993. We thought it was cute, getting hitched on Independence Day, and we joked about it for years. During those years, we had a great life. We also had two wonderful kids, and we did a great job raising them.
Today isn’t July 4, but it is truly Independence Day for us both. I want to sanctify this occasion, the signing of our collaborative settlement agreement, by thanking you for everything you’ve done for me and for us over the years, for your lovely marriage proposal, for marrying me, for encouraging me to stay home with the kids, for helping me get a job five years ago, and for all the minutiae that I may have taken for granted in between.
I have come to realize, during this process, that I shouldn’t have taken anything for granted. And I want to thank you for insisting that I give the collaborative process a try. It was everything you promised it would be. And so [and she looked around the room at each of us], I want to thank each of you for the parts you played in ensuring that we got this done in the kindest way possible.
[She turned back to her husband.] Thank you for listening. And thank you for everything else.
When we consciously come together for a ceremony, we connect with others and ourselves. In a collaborative divorce, once the clients have reached a full resolution, I honor their hard work by giving a short speech at the conclusion of the last full team meeting. The energy of the group is important. Your team should be encouraging and proud.
A simple gift, like the lotus that I give, helps to cement values held and passed forward over time. I tell the clients that the lotus is a universal symbol of purity and enlightenment, said to convert bad luck into good and to heighten one’s sense of joy and peace. It symbolizes that, no matter how dark the tempest, one can always rise above the storm clouds to the sun, and let the exquisite flower inside their heart bloom. I ask the clients to each place the crystal flower close to a window in their homes so that it reflects the sunlight, creating beautiful rainbows, instilling harmony and a feeling of optimism, and bringing peaceful energy, helping to make their new homes safe.
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About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.