by Diana L. Martinez
Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator, West Coast Law & Mediation, APC
Divorce takes an emotional, physical, and financial toll on spouses and their children. But the potential negative effects of divorce don’t stop with the family directly involved. They often spill out past the front door and affect many other people.
When a valued employee is going through the trauma of a divorce, the divorce can affect the entire workplace. The cost to employers can go well beyond absenteeism for a few days here and there to attend court hearings or meetings with the lawyers. Trying to accommodate the employer and the divorce process can prove challenging.
Courthouses are open only between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Most lawyers’ offices are only open between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. While some lawyers can be more flexible, most judges and courts cannot. The higher the conflict in the divorce, the more court appearances and the more time spent with the lawyers and in court.
Additionally, less obvious costs include:
- “Presenteeism”: The employee who is physically present at work, but unable to focus as a result of the divorce.
- Employees wasting valuable work time talking with co-workers about their divorce.
- An employee leaving work early due to anxiety attacks or illness related to stress.
- Childcare difficulties when the employee can no longer depend on his/her spouse to cover such tasks.
A depressed or distracted employee can end up with impaired judgment which negatively impacts his or her overall job performance. It can lead to safety concerns, injuries, mistakes, and accidents.
In one example, a company’s manager was served with divorce papers two days before the company was to submit a binding bid on a three-year contract for the company’s products through a county bidding process. The employee did his best to balance work with the depression, anger, and fears he experienced due to limited time with his children and concerns about spousal support and child support. The manager submitted the binding bid with an error committed by the distracted employee in the bid. When the company’s bid was opened, it was the lowest bid by approximately 25 percent. The county accepted the bid and the company was forced to abide by it, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars for those three years.
Employers value their loyal and dedicated employees who produce high quality work year after year. But imagine the same kind of employee suddenly hemorrhaging money in legal fees, expert fees, and custody evaluations; or when the same employee is on medication for depression, or is receiving harassing phone calls or disruptions at work from an irate soon-to-be ex-spouse. Even the most understanding and patient employer is ill equipped to provide the safety or emotional support the employee really needs.
Unfortunately, in a worst-case scenario, this can cost the employer a truly valuable employee. It can cost the employee his or her job at the worst possible time, adding to his or her financial hardship and stress.
These same challenges often continue one, two or even five years after the divorce is completed. The higher the conflict during the divorce, the longer the recovery will take. The more time spouses spend in contested court battles during their divorce, the more likely they will continue to battle over modifications to orders after the final judgment is entered.
Many couples facing divorce have found an alternative to the high stress and high cost of a litigated divorce. Spouses who co-create their agreements through an out-of-court process such as mediation or Collaborative Divorce spend less time in court when compared to a litigate divorce, and experience far less stress. Often, they are able to work with a divorce coach, a trained mental health professional, who can help manage the anger, sadness, or frustration they experience.
Children also tend to recover faster when their parents are able to communicate well and act as a team in support of their children. This also adds up to fewer lost workdays because of stress, anxiety, child illness, or childcare challenges after the final divorce decree.
Human resource professionals are starting to recognize the advantages of Alternate Dispute Resolution for all civil matters faced by their employees, including divorce, and often recommend employees consider these methods for divorce and other legal issues.
As an employer, consider these options to help your valued employees navigate the difficult process of divorce:
- Be sure your human resources personnel know about out-of-court divorce options. Are they versed in conflict resolution skills? Understanding the emotional and financial trauma is the first step in assisting a valuable employee through the divorce transition. Having the skills to acknowledge the hardship and refocus the employee so they are fully present during work hours requires training and education.
- Mediation and Collaborative Practice groups offer general conflict resolution training. The skills taught in such programs are transferable to family conflicts, as well as interoffice conflicts, which can arise during the divorce process.
- Many employers recognize the benefits of offering needed support for employees experiencing trauma through Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). EAPs often include referrals to mental health professionals and divorce lawyers. Does your EAP provider have knowledge about out-of-court divorce options? Can it provide a referral to a Collaborative Divorce practice group or family law mediators?
- Collaborative Divorce, like mediation, is an out-of-court, solutions–focused process for completing a divorce. Because it is an out-of-court process, an employee can meet with their professionals outside of work hours including evenings and weekends.
- The Collaborative Process is especially useful in high-conflict or more complex divorces typically taking two to three years to resolve through the court system. Most Collaborative Divorces are resolved within 12 months, and can cost far less than a comparable litigated courtroom case.
- Divorce Options Workshops: These workshops are held in the evenings and weekends. A family law lawyer, divorce financial professional and a divorce coach present information about the divorce process, and answer general questions. Taking the mystery out of the divorce process itself reduces the anxiety and stress typically associated with an impending divorce. Some programs are offered at no cost while others charge a nominal fee.
- Provide online resources such as:
- International Association of Collaborative Professionals
- Collaborative Practice California
- Collaborative Divorce Solutions of Orange County
- Southern California Mediation Association
We all experience conflict in various aspects of our lives. The conflict can either escalate to the point of losing an employee, spouse, or friend, or it can strengthen those same relationships. It can mean the difference between a productive employee and happy customers or a company with a high employee turnover and a reputation for rude staff. Companies that support their employees during personal challenges like divorce will reap the benefits in terms of their bottom-line and their reputation.