Most of us perceive divorce as a headache. But we don’t typically know what’s involved until the process actually begins. Much of that lack of knowing will end for my listeners today…on this edition of Frank Relationships.
FRANK RELATIONSHIPS: LESTER BARCLAY, ESQ, AUTHOR OF “THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN GUIDE TO DIVORCE AND DRAMA”
Guests: Lester Barclay
Date: September 02, 2013
Frank: Most of us perceive divorce as a headache, but we don’t typically know what’s involved until the process actually begins. Much of that lack of knowing will end today with this special guest that we have on this edition of Frank Relationships.
Welcome to Frank Relationships where we provide a candid, fresh and frank look into relationships with goals of acceptance, respect and flexibility. I’m Frank Love and you can find me, my blog and my various social media incarnations at franklove.com. Once again, I’m joined by my super duper co-host, Dr. Gayl.
Dr. Gayl: Hey, Frank.
Frank: Go get me some coffee.
Dr. Gayl: Yeah, right.
Frank: Go warm up the car.
Dr. Gayl: Yeah, right. Who do you think this is?
Frank: I tell you. It’s such insubordination. She’s–
Dr. Gayl: I’m just your radio wife. Your real wife has to deal with that daily. Poor thing.
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Now, today’s guest is known for his groundbreaking work in family law. Ask any judge, client or competing attorney that he’s worked with and you’ll hear the descriptions “stand up guy, passionate about money, fair, dignified and a respected advocate for children’s interests.”
Naturally it would come as no surprise that instead of simply wanting to work with one client at a time, he’s decided that he wanted to speak to thousands and maybe even millions. And to do so he penned the remarkably informative and well written, The African American Guide to Divorce and Drama: Breaking up without Breaking Down.
The first ever comprehensive guide on divorce tailored specifically to and for African Americans. I’ve got to tell you people, I’ve read it and it’s a very good book. I’m pleased to welcome to the show, attorney Lester Barclay. Welcome.
Lester: Thank you, Frank. It’s a pleasure to be here and with your listening audience this morning.
Frank: Why write a book about divorce and African Americans instead of just the subject in general?
Lester: A number of years ago I was in a high profile litigation custody battle and I noticed that there was a serious disconnect in the four or five months that we were trying the case with the judge, the lawyers who were representing the parties.
Frank: How many children?
Lester: There were two children.
Lester: They didn’t get it. They didn’t understand the family had a lot of money. This family was a high profile family and they didn’t get the fact that this was a different kind of divorce. And so, I basically decided to do a little research to determine what’s out there for African American families going through the troubled waters of divorce. I found hundreds of books about divorce, but none that spoke to the African American experience.
Dr. Gayl: What didn’t the mainstream judge, I’m assuming, get about that this African American family verses someone who is Caucasian or of other descent or ethnicity?
Lester: There are peculiar distinctions when we look at the African American family. First, you look at the black matriarchy that we have. We have a history of strong black women in our community. Often it’s the case that black women are better educated. They’re higher wage earners, and so the negotiating power turns and shifts, because you have black women who are leading African American families in many ways.
As well, when you look at the extended family concept, we have this village concept. In many instances, African American families are fostering other children that they did not necessarily give biological parenting to.
But we have this extended family. For instance, if your niece needs to go to Spellman and you have means, and then you’re going to basically have to step up and play your role. We oftentimes find ourselves extending ourselves to other family members who become a part of our extended family.
When you also look at the influence of the African American church and what it symbolizes as it relates to marriage and commitment. Sometimes you may be thinking you’re simply divorcing your spouse. But in fact, you have to divorce the community, you have to divorce church, you have to divorce friends, you have to divorce the neighbors. It’s part of this large village.
Another area is the reluctance of African Americans to seek therapy. We are anti-therapy unfortunately, and that causes a lot of rifts and break-up in our families. There are issues of domestic violence. There are issues of high instances of incarcerations. These are a number of issues that the mainstream do not have to contend with.
Dr. Gayl: And secrets that people keep, too, within the nuclear family.
Frank: A lot of the things you mentioned, such as the funding, your niece going to school, I don’t necessarily think that’s just attributed to the African American community, but I see the value in what you’re saying.
As it pertains to the church, I’m going to go straight into your book to page 206 and tell a story where you discuss the church.
You say, “I recall the story of a church deacon who had been married for 30 years when he became romantically involved with a choir member, which led to his separating from his faithful wife. The deacon loved his children, so each morning he would go back home to see his family, bring the newspaper and have his regular cup of coffee. However, after his brief visit he would go back to stay with his new woman.
Had the deacon been a loner, perhaps his pastor would have successfully intervened in the situation. However, no less than 20 persons who were relatives to both the deacon and the choir member attended this church. Thus, there affair became an open scandal.
The church began to break apart. Members and families left the church. Some even moved out of state. If this situation had occurred in a white congregation, generally speaking, the parties might have lost themselves in the social scuffle. However, in the African American experience, church overlaps with how black people define community. Religious and social functions overlap and deeply influence one another.”
You want to chat about that a little bit?
Lester: Yeah, I think that a clear example is from time to time I will go to church and someone will ask me, “Where’s your wife? How are the kids doing?” And so there’s a certain level of accountability in our community that may not necessarily be the same way in other communities.
For many years, African Americans could not get married and the church validated the marriage of many people. It was a good thing to have a church wedding, to have somebody bless your marital union. And so, the church has held itself out in many instances as a form for accountability in terms of couples.
We have marriage ministries. We have single ministries. We have divorce support ministries. A lot of things that we do in our community–reaching out to young people who don’t have fathers actively involved in their homes, these are the things that the church does. So, the church is definitely a part of a marital relationship in our community, more so than it is in other communities.
Frank: I hear you talking about what it is and not really giving your opinion one way or the other and I appreciate that. However, I’m going to go into it, because I certainly have an opinion about it. Do you think that the church being so involved is a good thing or a bad thing or neutral?
Lester: I think it’s a good thing. However, let’s look at the statistics, for instance. Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce in our community and–
Dr. Gayl: What is it for other communities?
Lester: It’s roughly about the same. Generally speaking, 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. However, when you look at the church and its influence–let’s say you have a family that attends church on a regular basis: two to three Sunday’s a month. Fifty percent of those couples get divorced as well.
It’s astounding that the church has dropped the ball in many instances on a historic role that it has played in terms of being there for families, to support families. And granted, if you don’t go to church and you don’t take advantage of certain activities that they have for couples and families and children and those kinds of things, then that’s at your own peril. However, you have to look, you have to say, “What’s the difference between people who go to church and people who don’t go to church?” And right now in our community, there’s very little distinction.
Frank: What I heard you say was that means the church may be dropping the ball? But is that really true? If we look at that comprehensively, is that really the case?
Lester: I don’t simply say that the church is dropping the ball. I’m saying that there are a combination of factors.
Lester: And one may be that someone decides that they don’t want to go to church. They don’t want to be that involved in a particular congregation, particular faith, whatever that may be and so they don’t take advantage of some of the resources that are available.
I think clearly, that most churches offer resources. If it’s counseling, if it’s support–those things that are generally available in mid-size to large churches.
Frank: Okay, alright.
Dr. Gayl: And I’m going to play devil’s advocate and state that even the persons that do go to church and are involved, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are divorce-proof, because oftentimes, I’ve witnessed the church hovering over people. Hovering over couples or “You must do this or you musts do that or you must be model citizens,” and people feel like they’re obligated to go ahead and get married or to be in a relationship that isn’t self-fulfilling, because this is what they’re supposed to do according to the church.
Lester: Yes. I think that a good upstanding member of the church, there’s an expectation that you’re not just going to live together and if you have a relationship and it’s a longstanding relationship, that marriage is a course that the church supports.
Frank: I want to reiterate something that I said, which was your position in the book is primarily this is just the state of things and I want to say, I agree. And what we’ve been talking about the last few minutes is just our opinions on it and I don’t want to mix the two.
Frank: You noted that someone may even ask you, “Where’s your wife.” I’m going to give my opinion on that too. I have people come to my house regularly, if my wife’s not there, they may say, “Where’s your wife?” And sometimes I may tell them, “She ran to the store.” Other times I’m going to tell them in a polite way, “Mind your business.” And I’ll just simply say, “She’s out.” And that’s my way of basically telling people that where my wife is–in my concept of it all, that’s a way of finding out if she’s out doing something she shouldn’t be doing or “How come she’s not here with you or how come you’re not with her.” That sort of thing. I don’t like that. What’s going on between me and my wife is between me and my wife. If she’s not here, she’s out and that’s all you need to know.
Dr. Gayl: Well, Mr. Barclay stated–that what it sounds like I heard him say that with the church that’s accountability. In your analogy that would be accountability, but you’re saying that you don’t like that.
Lester: Yes. It’s accountability not only in the context of the church, but it’s accountability as it relates to the family structure. You have a big mama in the family that everybody can talk to, people can confide in her. She’s the person who basically– you can pick up the telephone in the middle of the night and say, “Hey we’re having some problems. This is what’s going on.” And so, you might get a call from her, who basically says, “How’s the niece? What’s going on with you two? I didn’t see you at the last holiday barbeque. Is everything all right?” That is accountability.
Frank: Let’s play with that. Is that so much accountability as it is a part of the matriarchy-patriarchy, where you are basically reporting to the person you’re senior. I’m not sure if that’s accountability.
Lester: I think that, that person has earned the right–in many instances if you have high regard, respect for that person–
Lester: To basically get in your business.
Frank: Yes, I agree.
Lester: In a lot of ways that has saved marriages. It has basically, if you have that focal person in the family that you can go and you can talk to. They’ve been married, let’s say 30, 40 years and you go talk to them and they basically say, “Well, baby this wasn’t, this wasn’t an easy journey at all. We had all kinds of challenges and difficulties. What you’re seeing now is the after product, but you should have seen me 30 years ago.”
I think that we give that person in our family structure–and its’ not a lot of people, just maybe one or two people that you might feel that way about. You give them the right to basically intrude.
Frank: I completely agree and I see that is what you give someone. It’s a voluntary sub–pretty much submission. So, I don’t see it as so much–
Dr. Gayl: Intrusive.
Frank: Built-in. It’s not a built-in type of intrusiveness or this that and the other. It’s actually something that you’re welcoming.
Lester: Yes and it’s the same thing, let’s say with a minister, who basically can call you to task and say, “Look, hey I heard that your family is going through some challenges. I want to sit down and I want to talk with you,” and there are very few people in the African American culture who would say to the minister, “Mind your business.”
Frank: Okay. Where do you practice?
Lester: I practice in Illinois. I’ve been a practicing lawyer for 29 years.
Frank: And your office is in a particular city in Illinois?
Lester: In Chicago.
Frank: That I happen to be very fond of.
Lester: Oh, okay.
Dr. Gayl: He loves Chicago.
Frank: I love Chicago.
Dr. Gayl: He needs to pick up and move there, but then you–
Lester: It’s a great city.
Frank: You’d miss me.
Lester: And so is L.A. You have better weather.
Frank: I’m in D.C.
Frank: Well, we got better weather than Chicago in the winter for sure.
Frank: In one of your stories in the book you called a couple’s decision to reconcile, a responsible one. Do you take the general position as staying together is the “responsible” thing to do?
Lester: No, I do not believe that. I think in many instances, some people never should have gotten married. But I think that responsibility stems from issues when you bring children into the world together as a family and what’s best for your children, for your overall household. In the book I do not advocate saying together at any costs. I think that would be foolish.
I think that there are certain times when it’s appropriate to close the chapter of that marital relationship and move forward. However, I do not believe it should be as easy as it is.
I see couples all the time in our practice that basically they had one bump on the road and at that point they decided that they’re going to divest themselves of the marital relationship when in fact that marriage could be repaired. And actually, when you see that person the second time around, on the second divorce then the first marriage wasn’t as bad as they thought it was.
Dr. Gayl: Do you advise them, in your opinion, when they come to you like that. And you’re like, “This is only a bump in the road.” Do you advise them to go back and take a second jab at it? What do you do professionally?
Lester: One of the questions that we explore that in the book. Are you really ready for a divorce and have you basically checked the tires, looked under the hood, made sure that you are fully prepared to deal with divorce, because it changes you socially. It changes the structure of your family, your community, professionally. It has an impact on all these aspects of your life.
Frank: Is doing what’s best for the children ever different than what’s best for you?
Lester: Yes it is.
Frank: I really want to play with this.
Lester: I think that children in many instances, age appropriate, fully know and understand the dynamics of whether or not their family is functional or dysfunctional. And though it maybe painful for them to come to that realization, they know. And in many instances I had a parent who would say, “My child came to me and said, ‘Mommy this isn’t right. Daddy isn’t treating you right. You could do better. You don’t have to stay with daddy, just because of me.'” That may be 12 or 13 years old where a child basically comes to that understanding. And so, oftentimes parents stay in marital relationships longer than they should. And then, there are other instances, they exit too soon.
Lester: Can you tell me how one thing could be pro-child and anti-you? I’ve heard that concept for a long, long time and I’ve never really rested comfortably with it.
Lester: Often we see, let’s say a father, who has a very warm loving relationship with a mother, I’m sorry, with a child.
Lester: And he’s a great dad. He does all the right things. He’s a provider. He’s a protector. He is all the things that a good father should be. But on the other hand, he is a horrible husband.
Lester: He mistreats his wife. He cheats on her. He does all kinds of despicable things. But he has this independent relationship with the child and the child thinks he can walk on water and mom thinks, of course, he should drown in it. We see that often where that father will basically treat that child so much better than he would the mother. And it’s generally the little girl.
Frank: So, what is better for the child and what is better–are you saying that the mother maybe taking the position that she wants to stay or consider staying?
Lester: She looks at this and she says, “But my child loves her daddy and if I were to pack up and leave, there’s a strong likelihood that my child may resent me or she may have problems in the future, because of me separating from her father.”
Frank: But that doesn’t strike me as “either/or.” In fact, I think that if a parent wants to split, then it’s going to affect the child one way or the other, either way. The child living in a relationship in the home with two parents that don’t get along is going to affect the child. And the child living between two homes possibly or living in a situation where the parents are split, that’s going to affect the child. And I can’t say one is worse than the other.
Lester: I think that when you look at a child and a child doesn’t have the level of maturity, in most instances, to make an informed choice, sometimes that child is devastated by a choice that they would not have made otherwise. And so, I’ve represented over a thousand children of divorce, having been appointed by the court for many years to represent children.
For instance, I will have a parent and I’ll say, “How’s Johnny doing since you two have separated and you’re going through this custody battle?” And mom will say, “Well, he’s doing well. I talk with him; I let him know these are the reasons why I’m divorcing his father. I think its best that he lives with me, but he’s doing well.” I’ll kind of hear something similar from dad. But then when I speak with the child and I get the child’s prospective, that child is devastated. That child is depressed, that child may be near suicide. And som it’s really different how parents perceive going through the divorce cycle verses children.
I’ll give you another example. When we were kids–at least here in the mid-west, we would see the change of seasons. You’d start school in the fall and you’d see the leaves fall from the tree and then you’d see the snow come and then spring come. And then finally, you would have summer vacation, fun time.
That cycle seemed like it took forever and as a child that’s how children perceive things before adults. We look at it. We say, “Wow, we’re almost back into September now. Where’s the time gone this year? It’s gone so fast.” But in a child’s mind it runs very, very slow. And so, as a result of that, the way children process this and how they see it, a divorce that lasts for a year and a half, two years, could last a lifetime.
Frank: Yeah, considering they’ve only been here for a short period of time.
Frank: Comparatively speaking. But in that case, isn’t it how you divorce, not that you’re divorcing that really could make a difference?
Lester: I think that’s what the book speaks to.
Frank: I agree.
Lester: Basically, looking at in our experience from the African American prospective, how we can basically separate from each other. And not just divorce, because you have to look at the community that is not married. So, people who just live together, there’s a lot of drama there, because those people, in many instances, don’t have the community foundational and family support for a marital relationship.
For instance, they met and hooked up at the club and before you knew it they had a child and so, their families don’t even know each other. So, there’s no accountability. There’s no big mama. There’s no minister in the community that basically provides oversight to them.
You have to include that group as well. But if you can divorce or separate in a peaceful manner, if you can do this without the drama, then clearly that’s going to have less of an impact on your children.
Dr. Gayl: It may have less of an impact, but still death of a spouse is the highest stressful event in your life and then second is divorce, so whether it’s peaceful or not, it’s still extremely stressful in a stressful situation. Divorce is what it is. You can’t put roses on it and make it look good and sugar coat it. It’s just divorce and it’s a horrible stressful situation in someone’s life.
Frank: I really think–and mind you, attorney Barclay, myself and my co-host are divorced. I’m remarried. But I don’t think divorce is necessarily stressful. It’s going to be stressful for the people–
Dr. Gayl: For the people that is not stressful, they are out liars.
Frank: Okay, alright. I can go with that.
Frank: There is a level of stress.
Dr. Gayl: Statistically, I just told you, death of a spouse is the highest thing, then comes divorce, so the people that, “We’re going to separate and we’re still friends,” it takes a moment until you get to that point. Particularly if you have kids involved, if you have property involved, if you have things to lose, it’s very stressful.
Frank: And another quote from the book, you say, “The way to choose, the way you choose to divorce to deal with its drama can destroy you like a dysfunctional marriage.” How do you like to see parties split so that it doesn’t have such a detrimental effect?
Lester: There’s a humane way of leaving a marital relationship, because if you put it all on the table, divorce is about the division of property and–
Lester: The responsibility for children. I often tell people that “let’s sit down, let’s caucus.” If you have to bring someone in the room with you that you respect–and in many instances, I’ve brought grandmothers into the room and said, “Look you know this is out of control. This is affecting your grandchild and your daughter or your son is so bullheaded and just stuck in their ways.” And so, what I’ve had to do is actually bring those people into the room. That’s part of that village concept.
Sometimes I will have judges who will say, “I don’t understand this.” These are generally, white judges. They will say, “I don’t understand. This woman thinks that her minister has more clout than I do,” or influence, let’s say, and I will tell that white judge, “He does.”
Frank: Now, how do you tell that judge that? You can’t say that, I assume.
Lester: I am able to say that.
Lester: Because it’s a true and accurate statement about our community and how our community functions. And so, one of the reasons why I wrote the book was not just for the African Americans who would navigate through divorce, but for white lawyers, who represent black litigants.
Frank: That’s powerful right there and it’s worth really putting an asterisk there, because I like for my show to reach the world in general. My market in my mind is not just the African American population. It certainly isn’t for most of our shows, but when you have pointed out specifically how the white community or other communities can benefit from this, I appreciate this. And you said attorneys, but I assume like we were talking about judges too, it can also benefit judges and it can also benefit our fellow white citizens just by developing a level of understanding of the African American community.
Lester: Of course. I would submit to you that 60 percent of what is written in this book is applicable to the population overall. The 40 percent that deals with the cultural nuisances and things that are germane to the African American experience, I’ve highlighted those things.
But at the end of the day, if you have a house, it has to be disposed of, if you have children, you have to decide who the children are going to be living with, primarily all that is fairly generic. And what we do is, we offer peaceful solutions or at least some concepts at the end of each chapter that says, “If you do x, y and z you can likely avoid some of the drama going through a divorce.”
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You’re listening to Frank Relationships. We’re talking with attorney Lester Barclay, a very well known professional in the family law field and the author of the book, African American Guide to Divorce and Drama: Breaking up without Breaking Down.
Please tell our listeners how they can find out more about you and your book.
Lester: Your listeners could go to get the book on Amazon of course. As well, they could go directly to the website divorceanddrama.com.
Frank: You note that divorce drama leads to breakdowns in other areas of life and this is an important thing. It’s very apropos to note that when we’re going through turmoil in one place it’s going to have an effect on possibly our jobs, our health. What can you extrapolate on in terms about that?
Lester: Divorce speaks to a true life human condition of breaking down.
Dr. Gayl: That’s why it’s so stressful.
Lester: It could be psychological breakdown, physical breakdown, spiritual breakdown, personal breakdown, professional breakdown, financial and social breakdown. All of these aspects come into play when you’re going through a divorce.
Dr. Gayl: Even if it’s a amicable divorce, you still at the core of your soul–
Frank: There’s some level of stress. I agree there.
Dr. Gayl: It is. And then you question yourself and then there’s guilt and then there’s shame. Particularly with church, even if you and your partner are okay with it, if you are heavily involved in church there is that shameful aspect of it. That, “Oh no, I have to go to church and explain what happened,” or “People are going to look at me like I failed,” or “What’s wrong with me?” Or you might be the outcast. There is that aspect of it.
Lester: Yes or he brings Samantha to the same church that the two of you attended for 20 years–his new girlfriend and or fiancée. And what do you do? Do you leave the church? Do you stay there? How do you explain that? If it’s a mega church, then of course you can sit way on the other side of the congregation. But if it’s a church of a couple hundred people, then everybody’s going to know, “Oh, there she is.”
Dr. Gayl: And even if it’s a mega church, hopefully you’re involved and you have your circle of friends or your ministry that you’re on, so people are still going to know that he brought Samantha or Sharon or Shaniqua to 8:30 A.M. service and you were at 10:00–whatever, it’s still going to be a–
Frank: But so what?
Lester: Let me tell you. It’s not just stressful for that couple. It’s stressful for friends as well, because–
Dr. Gayl: Exactly.
Lester: Every year they’ve invited the two of you to the Fourth of July barbeque. Now who should they invite?
Dr. Gayl: Right. And friends do have to decide.
Frank: Mind your business and let the people decide. I’m inviting both of you all and you bring whoever you want.
Dr. Gayl: Again Frank, you are an out liar, okay. Normal people do not think how you do. Normal people feel that they have to decide, “Who am I going to be friends with?” And my case, I was like, “No, we were friends first. You’re my friends. I introduced you to this person, so–”
Lester: Well Frank, if you don’t plan accordingly, chicken and ribs may are not be the only thing on the grill that day.
Frank: That can be the case. But if all things are simple, then I’m inviting everybody. If I think it could be crazy or violent or something of that nature, I’m going to make a decision.
Dr. Gayl: All things are never that simple though. They’re never simple.
Frank: You know the players.
Lester: These are complicated matters, because let’s say, Denise was looking at him last year and you knew it and so now he shows up for the barbeque with Denise. They’re a couple now and you’re there by yourself. One of the issues that I address or attempt to address in the book is some of the anger that goes with this.
It’s very painful and I see it all the time. I don’t judge people, because they come to see me. They’re ready for divorce. I take them through the process. But some of the anger–and I’ll give you good example. Let’s say there’s an African American woman who is age 45 and the couple divorced a year or two ago. They have three children; two are teenagers. And now dad is relegated to seeing the children every other weekend, four days a month and mom basically has them the other 26 days.
Two of them are teenagers; they have bad attitudes that go with adolescence. Now, dad all of a sudden, he moves on, he has found someone else who’s 28 years old. She likes his maturity level and he knows how to handle himself. He knows how to handle money. He’s doing pretty good for himself.
Mom on the other hand, because of certain issues, she’s no longer the cheerleader type and gravity has set in. She’s gained a few pounds. Now, do you think it’s going to be as easy for her to invite some gentleman into her life, considering that she has two teenager daughters? How does she handle this and might she be a bit angry?
Frank: I got answers for all of that.
Lester: Does she have a right to be?
Frank: You pick one of those questions and I’m happy to jump in.
Lester: Take a shot at it.
Frank: Does she have a reason to be angry or right to be angry?
Frank: The first to say, anybody has a right to be angry about anything. However, I don’t think it’s productive. And on top of that, who you going to be angry at, because gravity set in, because you put on a couple pounds? I mean, you’re going to be angry at the husband or God? Your husband didn’t do it, you having children was some form of an agreement between the two of you all and you just happen to be the one that bear the children. It’s not his fault.
Dr. Gayl: Mothers always get the short end of the stick. Mothers always get the short end of the stick. I’m going to say, left with. Oftentimes they’re left with kids, with more responsibilities and the husbands get to start over. They get to go and have their new life with Sharon and come to the cook out as this newly reformed single man and he only gets the kids on the weekend or every other holiday, whereas mom has to be mom and dad every single day.
There is a completely different aspect when you look at having to raise children day-to-day-to-day verses just getting them on the weekends. It’s completely different. Even if you talk to them on the phone or even if you come over to do homework, it’s different.
Lester: It’s different. And I see women who are angry, based upon the scenario that we just outlined. And I tell them, I can’t judge your situation, but perhaps you have the right to be angry. However, do not let your emotional issues overshadow the legal ones, because you will waste a lot of time and you’ll waste a lot of money.
It may sound callous, but I often explain to people that I’m kind of like the mortician. At the end of the day when you come to see your divorce lawyer, the marriage is dead.
Frank; I think that’s most of the time. Sometimes you know that you’re able to point them in the direction of reconciliation and sometimes it works.
Lester: That’s right. That’s right.
Lester: But overwhelmingly the majority of times that people come to see a divorce lawyer, they’ve made up their mind that this is what I want to do or I’m thinking about doing this. And so, people will often wonder and ask me, “Well, what do you think went wrong?”
I’m not trained in that area. And so, I tell folks, “I can’t analyze this from the prospective of did the patient get the right kind of medication and treatment?” It’s just at this point, my job is simply to prepare you with some dignity for a final respectful viewing, and then dispose of the marital relationship. And that might seem so what callous, but as divorce lawyers we see so many levels of emotions–ranges of emotions that we can’t be judgmental. We basically have to accept people as they are. They know why their marriage has failed.
Frank: And work with what you got.
Lester: And work with what we got.
Frank: The example you gave, one of the things we didn’t get into was, did she want the children 26 days of the month?
Dr. Gayl: Probably not. Who want kids that by themselves? Who wants to parent kids by themselves?
Frank: Oh, come on, attorney Barclay, you going to let that fly? There are so many cases–I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of cases where the man comes to court wanting to co-parent fifty-fifty their children.
Lester: Yes and what you see is sometimes, is the emotional issues and the pain. Let’s say mom has suffered or his ex-wife has suffered where she basically says, “The only thing that I have to hold onto that–”
Frank: Yep. That’s right.
Lester: “Can create some pain for you, because you’ve inflicted a lot of pain on me.”
Frank: So to speak.
Lester: “Are the children.”
Frank: Yes, exactly. When we’re talking about whether the heaviness, because the mother has the children 26 days a month verses the father, just four days a month. Well, if he didn’t even want the mother to have the children 26 days a month, he wanted to go half and half, so that she could get out on the treadmill, run, date and do whatever it is that she wants to do. These are the things that make, with these complications and these oversimplifications about women, men that are not quite brought to the forefront and it wasn’t with your example, I don’t think.
Lester: I think that it’s more complicated than that.
Frank: It always is.
Lester: I think that in many instances, if you love someone and that marriage ends or that relationship ends, in our community, unlike in the broader community, it’s hard to find a good black man.
Dr. Gayl: Well, you don’t have to be divorced?
Frank: That’s right. You didn’t have to get a divorce. You could have did what he wanted you to do.
Lester: Yeah, there’s a serious.
Dr. Gayl: Well, wait a minute Frank. That’s not what I meant.
Frank: That’s what I meant.
Dr. Gayl: Wait a minute.
Lester: There’s a serious male shortage, good male shortage. In the broader community, but in the black community, it’s a serious shortage of good black men. So, what does that mean?
It means that in many instances a woman who’s 45 years old and still has her vitality, she’s looking to say, “Will I ever love again and all of a sudden her children become a substitute for her trying to get companionship.” And she says, “Well, I mentor my children. I take them to soccer. I take them to piano.”
Lester: And actually what she’s saying is that, “I can’t find a man.”
Frank: That’s all she’s saying. Alright one of the biggest criticisms I have for your book and you may very well say, “Well, that’s not exactly divorce-related,” and I’m going to disagree with you if you say that–is that you don’t discuss prenuptial agreements or pre-child agreements, written agreements. I think that’s so important to relationships and it’s so important to navigating divorce and the end of a relationship that’s not a marital one. Can you weigh-in on why you didn’t add that and tell me if I’m wrong that you omitted that?
Lester: I think you are wrong.
Lester: I think if you look on page 223, we talk about a prenuptial agreement before remarriage.
Lester: And we do touch on that in the context of the estate planning. Basically looking at what a prenuptial agreement is, simply a contract before marriage that basically covers property and the distribution of property in the event of a marital break-up. It is covered. It may be an oversight that you didn’t see, but we did cover that and we do discuss that issue.
It’s there in the context of dealing with some of the after you have gotten your divorce and some of the issues that you need to look, estate planning, insurance and all of the things that will come into play.
Dr. Gayl: Let me–
Frank: This book is 277 pages long and you give prenuptial agreements two paragraphs. I vehemently disagree with your decision to do that. And the reason is, if you have these conversations–these important conversations on how property would be distributed, split how you would raise your children, how you would deal with custody–if you have these things outlined upfront, you know what the rules of engagement are as you move throughout your marriage. How–
Lester: Let me tell you. First of all, the average African American family that goes through divorce may have income of $60,000 – $75,000 family income. So, in an instance like that, for the average family, there’s no need for a prenuptial agreement going into a second marriage, because let’s say they have a home or they have a modest income, that can be managed–they have a pension, 401K, those things could be managed by having the beneficiary’s name on them who you designate to have those assets in the event you should pass away.
However, prenuptial agreements, generally when you get into families, let’s say there’s income or net worth of maybe $750,000 and up to wherever, it might be appropriate there. But the large overwhelming majority of African American families don’t fit that description.
We see them come in–I’ve done a thousand more than a thousand divorces and it’s rare that you have someone that comes in and they’ve got a few million dollars and they talk about a prenuptial agreement. Now, it happens from time to time, but overall, when you look at prenuptial agreements it’s dictated by net worth of an individual.
Frank: This is one of those things I’m passionate about and Dr. Gayl’s trying to get in on the conversation.
Dr. Gayl: No, talk. I can leave.
Frank: I see it as not just being about income, but it’s about the rules of the relationship. A prenuptial agreement may very well say, “This is how the children will be raised as a Muslim or a Christian?”
Dr. Gayl: Attorney, can you define what a prenuptial agreement is? Is it only monetary things and property? What is it?
Lester: A prenuptial agreement dictates going forward in a second marital relationship. In other words, you want to protect your interest in assets that you’ve accumulated. So, the second time you get married, you want it to be clearly defined as to what this person’s going to receive from the assets that you’ve accumulated in the past. It may be that you keep yours, she keeps hers. This goes to your children. This does not go to your new spouse.
Frank, I think what you probably are addressing is, a marital settlement agreement, which basically dictates how you’re going to raise the children, what religion they’re going to be, who’s going to be responsible for healthcare, who’s going to be responsible for extracurricular activities; who’s going to be responsible for selecting how they’re going to be educated.
Those kinds of issues would be contained in a divorce judgment or divorce decree and that would deal with the present. The prenuptial will deal with wife number or husband number two.
Frank: Are you saying you can’t do a prenupt if if it’s not your second marriage?
Lester: You can basically do an agreement, if in fact, you we’re going to end this marital relationship. It’s a property settlement, essentially.
Dr. Gayl: But it sounds like you’re saying, there’s no point, because oftentimes people don’t have enough money. Basically, in plain English, a lot of people don’t have enough money to even draw up a prenupt. Is that what you’re saying?
Lester: Yeah, the average African American family that’s not what they come in for.
Dr. Gayl: And then, Frank is describing is not a prenupt. You are describing something else. Something–do you even put that on paper when you go into a marriage? Do you put something like that on paper? “In the event that we divorce, these are how my children, these are how the children are going to be raised. This is what religion–”
Dr. Gayl: Do you put that on paper?
Lester: No. It’s generally dealing with financial issues.
Dr. Gayl: Okay.
Lester: “I don’t want him to get my money.”
Dr. Gayl: Right.
Lester: “I’ve been very successful and I want to keep my money in my family. I want a relationship with him. I want to be married to him, but I don’t want him to cash out on it.”
Dr. Gayl: And Frank is so adamant about the latter part that I discussed about how are the children going to be raised and non-monetary issues.
Frank: Yes, to iron those out ahead of time.
Dr. Gayl: But the thing is–
Frank: Just if you all happen to split–
Dr. Gayl: But the question is, do you put that on paper and the attorney just stated, no you don’t.
Frank: Yes, well he’s saying that it’s generally not done. That’s what I hear him saying
Lester: Yes. In the African American experience it’s typically not done.
Frank: And I’m suggesting that it be done. Write these things down. In fact, even where it pertains to property that you don’t even own yet. You can simply say something to the effect of, “If your name is the one on it, it will be yours.”
Dr. Gayl: But can you do that? You can’t do that though.
Lester: We define marital property as generally in most states– because every jurisdiction is different–but in most states any property that has been accumulated doing the course of the marriage is marital.
Dr. Gayl: So you can–
Lester: Because you’ve got better credit. We’ll have your name on the house. However, if it was accumulated doing the time of marriage, it’s a marital property.
Dr. Gayl: Right. And then another thing is, you can’t put on paper or can you? It sounds like you’re stating that you can’t put on paper going into it what you can walk away with. Right?
Lester: That’s right, because you don’t know what you’re going to have. You can only deal with what you actually have when you’re dealing with a prenuptial.
Dr. Gayl: Right.
Frank: You’re listening to Frank Relationships. We’ve been talking with Lester Barclay, a very well respected family law attorney and the author of the book, The African American Guide to Divorce and Drama, Breaking up Without Breaking Down. Once more, please tell our listeners how they can find out more about you and your work.
Lester: You can reach us at: divorceanddrama.com or you can pick the book up on Amazon.
Frank: Along today’s journey we’ve discussed prenuptial agreements, divorce characteristics particular to the African American community and we even touched on how to deal with your ex’s new partner in social circles.
I hope you’ve had as much fun as I’ve had learning divorce and the related issues for the African American community. As always, it’s my wish for you to walk away from this conversation with a heaping helping of useful information that will help you create a relationship that’s as loving and accepting as possible.
Let us know what you thought of today’s show at: facebook.com/relationshipflove, on Twitter @mrfranklove or at franklove.com. On behalf of my producer, Phileta Legette, keep rising. This is Frank Love.
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