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DIVIDED FAMILIES: CIVIL DISENGAGEMENT INSTEAD OF WAR

"A house divided against itself cannot stand" warned Abraham Lincoln, quoting Aesop. Later, as president, Lincoln concluded that war was inevitable in order to preserve the Union.

Is there an alternative to war in a divided family?

The law assumes that all human relationships will ultimately fail, whereupon every individual will need a lawyer to protect him or her from everyone else…even from family. The law assumes that family war is inevitable.

But a family house divided cannot withstand litigation. No matter how carefully their lawyers try to prepare them for battle, families have no idea—and cannot possibly foresee—how dreadful a family lawsuit can become.

Litigation divides families into opposing camps. Until it's resolved they may quit talking and communicate solely through lawyers. The antipathy generated by a family lawsuit will be transmitted down to younger family members in ways older family members cannot anticipate, cannot trace, and cannot control.

Certain aspects of family are not divisible. Genes, history, and heritage—in some form—will survive hostilities. But why burden inheritance with the lethal fallout from family litigation? A bitterly divided family today, may yet yen to reunite in a later generation. Even the blood feuding Hatfields and the McCoys eventually buried the hatchet.

The opposite extremes: either a family war, or else complete family reconciliation currently, are not the only alternatives. If family enmity runs too deep to resolve currently, "civil disengagement" may be a viable alternative.

Civil disengagement:
  • acknowledges current irreconcilable differences,
  • but avoids family litigation;
  • manages each divided camp separately,
  • but leaves the door open to family reunification in later generations.

"We can't get along now, but who knows, perhaps our grandchildren may enjoy each other." Civil disengagement can leave them that unfettered legacy.

Armies are composed of divisions.

Lots of successful companies operate through divisions.

In the interest of current peace and the welfare of future generations, a divided family can civilly disengage into separate divisions for a generation…or two.

And who knows?

Once civilly disengaged, those divided houses may miss each other.

—Gerald Le Van, August 2005


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