Many people have asked me why I turned from being a successful, aggressive divorce attorney to a mediator. It is a question that I have been asked over and over again for a dozen years now. I admit that I never really delved deeply into the question, just answered it with some general statements like, “It was no longer in line with my truth,” or “My spiritual growth would no longer allow me to ignore the damage I was doing to families,” or some such.
Now, to a large extent, these statements are true. But it wasn’t until today that I really looked within and had the courage to really ask myself the question. Why do I now preach and teach Peaceful Divorce? And here is the answer: because I created a peaceful divorce for myself 17 years ago when I divorced my ex-husband, and how that experience changed everything for me.
Here is my story:
I was with my first husband for 16 years, from the time I was 19 and he was 23. We went through lots of tough times together, especially financially – heck, when we met I was earning $2.15 an hour as a desk clerk at a hotel on the beach, and he was working for a hobby store chain!
I was studying to get my college degree during the day, while working nights at the hotel. At one point I took a paralegal course, became a paralegal, and worked for a couple of law firms. That’s when I thought: ‘if these guys can become lawyers, so can I.’
So I finished up my degree and went to law school. The man who would become my first husband and I moved in together. It was very difficult – I was either going to school or studying all of the time. He got laid off from his job shortly after we moved in together. But we supported each other as best we could and, in my third year of law school, we got married.
I graduated from law school and became a divorce attorney (I knew from my first day in law school that is what I wanted to specialize in). My husband started his own computer business. We saved and bought our first home together, and had a pretty happy marriage for the better part of 10 years. We traveled a lot, accumulated a lot of stuff and, as happens to many, many couples, as the years went by we drifted apart as our interests changed, taking our lives in two different directions.
We were never blessed with children, although my husband wanted them very badly. I wasn’t sure, wanted to wait until my career was secure and, before you knew it, my time to have babies (if I ever could have conceived) had passed. At age 34 I had to have a complete hysterectomy for medical reasons, so that was that.
My husband and I continued to drift apart until it got to the point that it felt like we were strangers living in the same house. Neither of us had much interest in the other’s interests. And there were other problems as well.
We went to counseling together, and I also went separately, but it was really too little too late. Promises to change went unmet, and, in a fog of anger and pain, I eventually made the decision that we needed to get a divorce and move on with our lives. I was full of confusion, doubt, and fear, but I couldn’t see any other way out.
My husband did not put up much of a fight about my decision, a fact I blamed him for, for many years thereafter - that is, when I wasn’t busy blaming myself for throwing away a perfectly good husband and marriage. Even as I listened to my inner voice telling me I was doing the right thing, my self-doubt ran very deep.
But why am I telling you all of this? Because I want you to know that I am human just like you. Because I want you to know that I understand your pain and grief, as I have been through it, too. Because maybe you can see yourself and your own situation somewhere in here.
But mostly I am telling you this story because, with my unique perspective as a divorce attorney during my own divorce, even amidst my anger and pain, I knew why it was important to create a peaceful divorce for myself, and I knew how to do it. And that is what I want to share with you.
I was divorced in 1991. At that time I had been a divorce lawyer for 9 years and had a thriving practice in Boca Raton, Florida, and a reputation for being a “killer,” a “shark,” a “barracuda,” and some other choice names that I can’t mention here. I was equally respected, feared, and hated by most of my fellow lawyers, and certainly by my client’s spouses.
I gave my practice my all and went for the throat without exception, and without mercy. I thought that I was being a good lawyer that way. I believed that is what I had to do to “zealously represent” my clients (which is an ethical rule for attorneys, by the way). And, because, let’s admit it – I made a lot of money.
When I went through my own divorce, all of that began to change. I was well aware of the pitfalls and landmines that divorce litigation presents. I knew how words could be used as lethal weapons against open emotional wounds, and how to escalate a disagreement into a war.
I understood the lasting impact that battling someone you once loved and trusted, someone who once was your best friend, can have on a person for years to come. I saw first-hand how children were torn apart when not only was their world crumbling around them, but when neither Mom nor Dad could provide a safe emotional place for them to land.
I knew all too well how families including brothers and sisters, in-laws and cousins, and mothers and fathers could get caught in the middle of a no-win situation when a couple divorces on the legal battleground.
And, knowing all that I knew, I was determined not to let that happen to me.
Believe me, there were plenty of times during my divorce that I wanted to scream, kick and fight. Times I was furious because my soon-to-be ex wanted something that I wanted, when I was convinced that he only wanted it because I wanted it. Times when I was certain that he was trying to punish me, to get even with me for finally making the decision to divorce.
But each time I was tempted to “go there” I pulled myself back until I could get control of my emotions. I was absolutely determined to create a peaceful divorce (of course, I didn’t call it that back then, the term didn’t even exist as far as I knew). I was unwilling to pay the price, both financially and emotionally, that hundreds of my clients had paid. I knew that the cost was never recouped, and that the damage that was done was often beyond repair.
As I consciously created a “peaceful” divorce, my husband followed suit. I remembered, each time I was tempted to lash out, all of the times my mother used to say to me when I was a little girl and came home upset by a tiff I had in the schoolyard, “they can’t fight by themselves.” As long as one of us remained calm, the situation could remain under control.
I tried to understand his point of view and to carefully listen to what he had to say without imposing immediate judgment. Believe me, it wasn’t easy! But I knew the consequences of indulging in my anger and resentment, and it just wasn’t worth it. We didn’t rush, we allowed a sufficient amount of time to pass to cool down when necessary, and then began the negotiations again when cooler heads prevailed (there really was no mediation in those days).
Finally, we came to an agreement, each of us using our own attorneys, but letting them know that we wanted to keep our divorce peaceful, and not go to court. We succeeded in keeping our families out of it for the most part, and made it through one of the most difficult times in each of our lives without the financial and emotional devastation that a court battle would have surely brought. In the end, we had an uncontested divorce.
That experience changed who I was as a person, and as a lawyer. Although I did not officially close my litigation practice until a few years later, I never practiced divorce law the same way again. My own close call with what I had been dishing out for years shook me up enough to make me change my evil ways.
I now understood first-hand how it’s not so easy to just “get over it!” (a favorite expression of mine with clients prior to my own divorce). Additionally, as a result of my own personal experience my compassion for all parties increased, and I lost my edge. I had no heart for the courtroom anymore. I could no longer ignore the voice inside of me reminding me that these were families with their children and their life savings at stake.
It was then that I decided that I would no longer be a part of the problem, but would become a part of the solution. In 1995 I closed my divorce litigation practice forever, and I was one of the first in the county to become a divorce lawyer turned mediator. I have practiced exclusively divorce mediation ever since, helping families to create peaceful divorces for themselves, even when they did not believe it was possible to do so.
When it appeared to me that it would take me forever that way to reach all of the divorcing families who needed my help, I co-authored my book, “Happily Divorced! Secrets of the Win-Win Formula
” along with a seasoned marriage and family psychologist, to show divorcing couples, step-by-step, how they can create a peaceful divorce, no matter what, and to support them and their families on this life-changing journey.
With love and unwavering support,
Cynthia Tiano, Esq.
Peaceful Divorce Mediator
P.S. My former husband re-married a couple of years after our divorce and has two beautiful children. We stay in touch indirectly through our extended families, with whom we are still friends. Thirteen years ago, I married a wonderful man, and I am very happily married to this day.
Who knows what the Universe has in store for you?