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Pablo Sandoval was the man this week when the San Francisco Giants third baseman hit three home runs in Game 1 of the World Series, leading to his being named the MVP on Sunday when the Giants swept the Detroit Tigers. His performance was a far cry from the Sandoval fans knew in 2010, the last time the Giants were in the World Series, when he gained a lot of weight and hit a major slump.

What happened? Well, back then, he was in the middle of a messy divorce from his former wife, Yoletzade, with whom he has a 3-year-old daughter, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy did what most managers would do — he benched him for his poor performance. 

But, not every boss can afford to tell an employee to “sit this one out,” and not many employees can afford to. What happens when you’re going through a divorce and you don’t have a multimillion-dollar contract?

Whatever businesses are doing, they’re not doing enough, believes Rebecca Love Kourlis, former justice of the Colorado Supreme Court and executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). In fact, she believes employers should be actively seeking divorce court reform, or so she writes in “It’s Just Good Business: The Case for Supporting Reform in Divorce Court“:

“Businesses have a stake in helping to reexamine the way in which our society unwinds marriages and addresses child custody issues. If those processes can be improved — such that they cost less money, take less time, and are less adversarial and inflamed — not only will employees benefit, but so will their employers. Not only is it good practice, it is just good business. tweet

Like Sandoval, when I was going through my divorce, I couldn’t perform too well, either. I wasn’t even sure if I should tell my boss, but I really didn’t have to stress about that too much: I had the luxury of working from home (but sadly not Sandoval’s salary — $3,200,000). Still, it was hard to hide it from her.

That’s typical, says Kourlis. She cites studies that indicate how an employee’s marital problems can lead to more absences, tardiness, on-the-job injuries and loss of productivity; “a 1996 study indicated that as marital distress increased, work-loss days increased at a rate of 1.34 work loss days.”

Most disturbingly, marital problems can lead to domestic violence. In addition to the horror the battered spouse and kids are going through, studies indicate it could cost businesses as much as $5 billion dollars a year and $727.8 million in lost productivity.

If you’ve been divorced, you know how distracted you are, not only by the legal and financial challenges, but also dealing with housing (are you going to have to move? sell the family home?) and child custody issues. It’s impossible to not bring some of that to work. Divorcing employees “make more mistakes; work more slowly; and if they are feeling angry, project that anger onto colleagues and customers,” according to a study she cites.

It’s not like employers don’t offer help; many businesses have employee assistance programs (EAP) that include counseling (but not, interestingly, always marital counseling) and education among other services. But, as Kourlis notes, what a family really needs during a divorce is help figuring out how to divide their lives, finances and parenting responsibilities. They need help with resolving disputes as well as learning how to navigate the legal system and perhaps even legal representation.

Speaking of the law, Kourlis says the adversarial model of family court is making things worse for families and businesses. “Not only is the system ill-suited to the resolution of family disputes, but the mismatch has harmful effects on children,” she writes. Although there are some reform efforts in the works, “there has been no systematic effort to evaluate them and institutionalize the successful ones. Rather, the wheel is invented and reinvented regularly.”

So, where does that leave businesses? “As part of their investment in human capital, businesses must recognize a stake in the efforts to find a better approach to family separation,” she believes. And that means actively taking part in improving the way society dissolves marriages and handles child custody issues.

Whether businesses are paying the bill through excessive litigation costs in a case in which they are parties or paying the bill in loss of employee time and productivity in cases in which the employees are embroiled, the net result is negative. Business has a very real stake in the development of a new model for family disputes. tweet

That new model is what the IAALS is working on; the independent research center at the University of Denver just launched its Honoring Families Initiative, which seeks to create models for “dignified and fair processes for the resolution of divorce and child custody cases in a manner that is more accessible and more responsive to children, parents, and families.” It’s about time!

  • How did your divorce impact your work?
  • How have coworkers’ divorces impacted the work environment?
  • Do you believe businesses should get involved in family court reform?



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