Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - April 19, 2013

Guest Opinion

City needs to consider impact of divorcing families in next strategic plan

by Jeffrey Blum

My service with a range of community organizations, including the Human Relations Commission, school site councils and YMCA board of directors has made me a firm believer in strategic planning. But I must say that the city's long-range strategic plan is incomplete because it fails to address divorce, a major issue impacting our residents' social, economic, housing and other needs.

The strategic plan helps determine residents' long-term needs. It helps the city plan budgets, infrastructure needs, housing and social needs. While the strategic plan looks at city's demographic makeup to develop needs assessments for youth (how many school classrooms will we need?), the aged (how many senior citizen units will we need?), the disabled (how can we make our street crossing zones safer?) and the ethnic and racial makeup of the community (what cultural services do we need to provide?), it does not address the impact that divorce will have on our community.

It is a given that divorce is prevalent here and elsewhere in California. I know that from my own experience as a family law attorney. Recessions come and go. Divorces just seem to come unceasingly. According to recent surveys the divorce rate in California is as high as 75 percent, a staggering number of failed marriages. So when the city designs its strategic plan it must consider the needs of all its citizens, including its divorcing families.

Divorces cause displacement. They frequently damage relationships with friends and family and to the community at large. Divorces strain the city's resources. People embroiled in divorce are often forced to relocate at a time when they are facing serious emotional and financial problems. These relocations impact the local real-estate market. Schools, child care centers, and local charitable organizations, already financially strapped, must deal with issues of domestic violence, child care needs arising from broken families, and child and adult depression caused by divorce. Yet the city's strategic plan does not address divorce and the impact divorce creates.

Perhaps the failure to address the impact of divorce on the city's resources in its strategic plan stems from the fact that we are a wealthy community with many residents who are financially able to hire professionals to address the issue of divorce. Palo Alto has plenty of divorce attorneys. I know that because I am the co-chair of the Family Law Section of our local bar. At last count Palo Alto had more than 60 attorneys who handle divorce cases. Palo Alto also has plenty of experts who mediate divorce cases and handle other aspects of divorce such as child-custody evaluations and therapeutic intervention.

These private services are expensive so not everyone can afford them, and even if they can it can create serious financial strains and losses to all but the wealthiest members of our community. Moreover, these services often fail to provide an integrated method of addressing the adverse consequences of divorce.

Such a plan to address our city's divorce-related needs could include Palo Alto's adult-education program offering classes to assist parents who are going through divorce. These classes could provide a step-by-step lesson about the divorce process and divorce financial planning. The city's youth recreation program could offer divorce support classes and child care services to children of divorcing couples. As the city develops housing needs assessments it may also want to consider how many less expensive and smaller housing units are needed to address the divorcing population.

We need to go much further than these suggestions in our strategic planning around divorce and its consequences if we are to continue thriving as a city.

I am addressing just one aspect of this need for inexpensive divorce resources. Along with a group of other like-minded attorneys we are creating a referral panel available through the Palo Alto Area Bar Association to offer initial low-cost mediation services to divorcing parties (and to other parties having different legal issues).

I do not see the divorce rate in our community changing much in the next several years since it has not changed much during the past 34 years or so that I have been a family law attorney. Given this trend I urge our city leaders to devote more time and effort to addressing divorce and its impact on our community when the next strategic plan is written.

Jeff Blum is a family law attorney practicing in Palo Alto. He can be reached at Blumesq@aol.com.

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