Recently my wife and I decided to put our house up for sale. We are “empty-nesters”, our children having left the house and begun their own lives many years ago, and having given us 4 perfect grandchildren. Even with the grandkids’ visits, we became increasingly aware that our house had become too big for us. We could either remain in the house, living in about 60% of it and “visiting” the rooms we no longer occupied, or we could reduce our living space, get rid of things that we no longer needed and could not pass on to our kids, and reduce the expense and responsibilities inherent maintaining a large residence. After much discussion, we chose the latter alternative; we would put the house up for sale. As a result of that decision, I learned a new word, “staging”.
I thought “staging” meant putting on a show, and in retrospect, when applied to a house the word actually does have that meaning, though the procedure and the “show” itself, are far different from a dramatic presentation. I was advised that “staging” a house means painting all the walls and ceiling white; removing all hanging art, thereby leaving the walls bare; removing area rugs, sculptures, family photos and portraits, and about half the furniture; removing lamps and accessories we had lovingly picked out and displayed over the 23 years we lived in the house and substituting bland, generic accessories; shipping all our treasured stuff to a storage cube; and worst of all, disposing of our piano. Our house had become a giant hotel room; all that was missing was the telephone with the “room service” button. Gone were all the accouterments that made the dwelling ours.
The process was painful at times. We weren’t prepared for the profound feeling of loss and sadness that accompanied the realization that the dwelling we had lovingly occupied and of which we were so proud was no longer ours, even though we still continue to own it and occupy it for now.
Why am I telling you this? Because it occurs to me that the dissolution of a long-term marriage embodies many of the same feelings, even after the negotiations, haggling and litigation is over, and even though the spouses no longer have the feelings for each other that they had in years past. Though they typically do not miss each other’s company and may have grown to mistrust one another, they mourn for the life they lived together as though it was itself a person who passed away. These feelings do not arise as a result of a misconception about the flaws in their marriage; just as we know the creaks, groans, and other flaws peculiar to our house, divorcing spouses are acutely aware of the flaws – theirs and their spouses’ – that afflicted their marriage.
As a 20-year-ago transplant from a commercial trial practice to a family law practice, I was not initially ready to deal with these feelings. My view was, “Let’s get the best deals for our clients and close the deals.” But over the last 20 years, I have become super-sensitive to them, learning from the likes of our partners Miles Beermann, Howard London, Enrico Mirabelli, Tom Field, Beth McCormack and so many other of our partners, how to perceive and understand that these feelings of profound loss deserve our patience and empathy as we navigate through the divorce process.
The emphasis on being empathetic that is established in our firm is to my observance found in few other family law firms, and is essential to the effective representation of our clients. Moreso than any other firm I have come in contact with, our mantra “Beermann Cares” is more than a mere platitude. It is a culture ingrained in all our lawyers, young and old, and practiced every single day. We will always remember that our task is not merely to dissolve your marriage, but to help you deal with the emotions that are the inevitable byproduct of that dissolution, and to help you prepare for a new existence, one which does not disregard the past but instead treasures the best part of it and fosters a hopeful and positive attitude for the future.
(By the way, we haven’t sold our house yet. We still live in this massive hotel room except that when we call room service, nobody answers).
Partner; Howard C. Emmerman