“Festivus Makes A Mess-Of-Us”: The Airing of Grievances in Divorce

January 18, 2022
Divorce Done Differently in PA
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With the holiday season winding up, I came across a “Festivus” decoration which we had bought for our tree many years ago. On a whim, I watched this Seinfeld episode (“The Strike,” Season 9, Episode 10) with my spouse and child. We’ve all always found this installment of the series to be one of the best and most enjoyable.

I began to wonder if there really is a festivus. A quick google search uncovered that oddly enough, there is a real “Festivus.” “Festivus” was originally created by the American writer Daniel Lawrence O’Keefe to commemorate the first date that he had with his (then future) wife Debora on December 23rd. It was meant to intimate a feeling of “excellence,” “joviality” and “liveliness.” “A Festivus For The Rest Of Us” originally referred to those family members remaining after the death of O’Keefe’s mother Jeanette. His son, Daniel O’Keefe, grew up to become a sitcom writer. Based on this real life story with a few changes, Daniel Jr. gave us a hysterical and truly memorable Seinfeld episode.

The true origins from the O’Keefe family seem to be rather sentimental and touching. However, in terms of the younger O’Keefe’s script, as with separation and divorce, the reality is a bit more complicated.

In light of this new discovery my thoughts kept returning to my work and what “Festivus” looks like in reality in my line of work.

Part of the Seinfeld “Festivus” tradition includes the annual “airing of grievances.” As the character Frank Costanza describes: “I GOTTA LOT OF PROBLEMS WITH YOU PEOPLE…NOW YOU’RE GONNA HEAR ABOUT IT!!!” (yes, he yelled).

I know and have read about some divorce attorneys actually promoting the “Airing Of Grievances” as a normal part of the divorce process (and advocating for it as a “healthy” part at that). Yet I can’t help but feel a moment of pause with this perspective.

“The Airing Of Grievances” unfortunately seems to be an integral part of the emotional divorce process but not the actual divorce court process. The legal divorce process is now generally a “no-fault process “designed to divide assets and debts, nothing more.

During the divorce process you believe that only you know all the challenges you have faced, not only in your own personal life, but also in the experiences you have had during the time with your partner well before you stepped into court. You feel the courts need to know all of this information or least let you tell your side of the story so at least you feel validated. However the courts aren’t about validation. The courts will push you to settle within their set legal parameters and you end up feeling like your divorce just doesn’t fit the courts’ view of fair. So you end up feeling very frustrated in the divorce process as the courts try to shove your square peg life into their compartmentalized legal round holes.

Unfortunately, the separation of assets and debts has nothing to do with healing, resolving emotional challenges or raising emotionally healthy children. Courts are ok at dividing property but children are not property. As for custody, the courts do the best they can with their skill set to design custody schedules for parents and children. However, the courts are made up of lawyers not sociologists or counselors. So although parents and children may be in a better position to determine the best parenting plans, because the parents are so emotionally overwrought over their divorce they tend to simply hand over their power to determine the best schedule for their children when they step into the courts.

In my experience, “Airing Of Grievances” can very easily (and most often does) fall into the realm of endlessly maintaining a score of “who did what” and “when.” It can be a source of continued rumination on the hurt and harm people have received at the hands of their partner/spouse during their time together (as well as after any relationship has ended).

I must be honest. In my view, focusing on these things, as if on an endlessly looping, repeating tape, does not resolve anything. It certainly does not help YOU move forward with your life as a person, with relation to your “ex.” It certainly does not make life any easier or emotionally healthier for any children you may have. I regret to say and I would not have believed it myself if I have not seen it to be so common a result in my more than 34 years of practicing family law, with respect to children, this kind of “airing of grievances” causes more harm to the welfare and stability of your children than you can possibly imagine.

Separation and divorce are profoundly painful and disorienting. But as intensely difficult as this is, it doesn’t mean that it has to be any specific person’s “fault.” As unbelievable as it may sound, it doesn’t have to be anyone’s “fault.” That’s why even the courts embraced this concept, decades ago, when states began to allow no fault divorces based on “irreconcilable differences” or “no fault.”

Endlessly rehashing injustices and grievances about your “ex” does not heal or make things right or fair. It does not resolve disagreements or issues. It does not resolve practical, everyday problems with a relationship which has fallen apart. It most certainly doesn’t address the real life challenges your children and you as their parents are facing day to day.

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The hurt, pain, disappointment and betrayal one feels after the breakup of a marriage or divorce are best under the care of a qualified therapist. A qualified therapist can help you process and heal and empower you to be ready to face not only the challenges you may have faced and continue to face during the course of your own life, but also with regard to your “ex.”

The parallels between the Story of Festivus and the demise of a marriage are striking. The history of Festivus started out from sweet seeds of sentimentality and grew from those origins into a rose bush of satirical parody whose thorns prick with the airing of grievances. The same way the sweet beginnings of a marriage that blooms into a life together ends with pricking the couple with its thorns of disappointment, betrayal and distrust as the marriage ends in divorce.

From a mediation standpoint “The Airing Of Grievances” isn’t really productive. My job, as a Marriage Mediator, is to serve as a facilitator to help couples smooth the transition between an unworkable relationship to a healing path forward. I help couples divorcing start to feel in control of the process of divorce by holding a safe space for them where each person will feel heard and acknowledged and informed, not attacked or blamed. I help lead them to a calm space where they can together make decisions that best suit their family based on their intimate knowledge of the lives and what will work best for them, not based on a cold general set of laws. Through mediation, I help my clients, through their divorce mediation, reconfigure, not destroy, all that they as a couple have built together during their marriage, so that it survives to benefit them and their children going forward. Contact us today for a consultation.

Want to Know More?

If you are interested in a consultation to discuss the options available to resolve your divorce, custody issues, support, or equitable distribution issues, please contact me and I can help you investigate your options. Call me, Lenore M.J. Myers, at 215-470-3121 or email me at lmjmyers@cs.com.

Location

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