Dear Pinky and Spike,

There is a strong possibility that you’ve already spun your case out of your own control. If so, this Wall Street Journal article about the Jack and Jane Welch divorce will be of no use.

Jack Welch was a successful CEO of General Electric. After his retirement, he and Jane came to a mutual decision to end their marriage amicably. The amicable part didn’t work. The article describes how Jane’s response to Jack’s opening gambit (involving the service of petition and summons) cost Jack certain retirement benefits worth $2.5 million per year. That was just the beginning.

If you’re able to stop acting against each other long enough to see where you’ve gone in less than a month, the article may help you see where you are headed — and then you can decide if it’s where you want to go.

. . .

Now, I’ll describe what I think happened since the letters I wrote to each of you after Spike was served with Pinky’s Petition for Dissolution of Marriage while enjoying her monthly lunch with friends. My wife, Mary, was a percipient witness to both events, and my account of what happened is based on what she’s told me.

Spike, you’ve been working out and running every day since you moved out of the big house and into the beach cottage. Mary says the daily runs on the beach have given your complexion a healthy glow and have restored the strong, athletic look you’ve always enjoyed. You were using the private lunch with your friends to try out a new look. Mary said that, dressed sleekly in black with your hair no longer showing any hint of gray, you looked terrific.

Pinky, you appeared in the club as dessert was being served. You were dressed in sackcloth and ashes — literally. Mary said you were a living version of Pig-Pen from Peanuts. Wherever you went in the spotless clubhouse, you were followed by a cloud of dust leaving a deposit on everything you came near, including the people. Mary said you didn’t say much. I would like to believe you were almost speechless because you had not anticipated the physical effect your costume would have on other people, especially Spike.

Pinky, you said something like, “Spike, I am very sorry for embarrassing you here exactly one month ago. I hope you can forgive me for acting like an idiot. I come in sackcloth and ashes in the way Henry sought expiation for the murder of Becket.” Then you handed Spike a set of keys and said, “You won’t be able to miss the car that goes with these keys, and it’s yours … if you want it.”

{Spike, what Pinky did is partly my fault. In a separate letter, I told him that I didn’t know how he could make peace with you after the service of the petition, but he could consider begging for forgiveness while dressed in sackcloth and ashes. It was a semi-serious suggestion, but I didn’t think he needed to be told not to do it in public.)

Spike, you now had another new look, which was, in a word, “ashen.” You said, “Pinky, the reason you acted like an idiot last month — and the reason you’re acting like an idiot right now — is because you are an idiot. Neither I nor anyone in this room wanted you to come into this building, and now everyone in this room wants you to leave. So go. And, in case you’ve forgotten, Henry made arrangements to have monks whip him. I’ll see what I can do to help you out with that.”

Spike, you and Mary were the first to leave the lunch. Once in the parking lot, you saw a shiny Porsche Boxster S parked sideways across three spaces. It was new, it was red, its sticker price was $63,000 and the keys fit. But you didn’t want any part of it — you didn’t want to own it, you didn’t want to ride in it and you didn’t want to drive it — even if you did know how to work the standard transmission.

Spike, it took just a minute for you to get the dealership’s general manager on the phone. You described the car, the location of the parking lot and the location of the keys (under the floor mat on the driver’s side). You described the purchaser as “my jackass-of-a-soon-to-be-ex-husband.” You told the manager that, if he could recover the car before it was stolen, you were giving it back to the dealership — and any problem with that arrangement was a matter between the dealership and the jackass.

Pinky, you called me that night and explained how you “bumped into” Spike at the grocery store you both continue to patronize. You noticed Spike’s new look and immediately ordered the Porsche as part of your new look. The car arrived after you decided to do the Henry II routine with sackcloth and ashes. You thought you could add the car as the “cherry on the top of the apology.” You knew Spike wouldn’t want it, but you thought she would “give it back to me as a sign of forgiveness and a reciprocal gesture of goodwill.” You acknowledge that using the public option for your performance “might” have been a fatal error. You also blamed the failure of your production on me for suggesting it in the first place. Finally, you asked me what I thought Spike meant by helping you out with “the whipping.” I said that you didn’t need me to tell you, because you were about to find out for yourself.

. . .

As predicted, the next morning Spike hired her own mean divorce lawyer. The retainer she paid was almost the same as the cost of the Porsche.

My friends, your prognosis is guarded. If I’ve been able to refer you to this article in time, you’ll see how similar the Welch case is to your own, and you can benefit from seeing how fast the Welch case escalated.

Jack and Jane Welch wanted an amicable divorce, but they acted upon a toxic combination of their own worst instincts and their lawyers’ legal advice. Within days, two physically healthy, bright, energetic people — who had more money than they could spend — lost their privacy, their decency, their dignity and, most importantly, control over their lives.

If the referral is tardy, you will read the article and see only the hundreds of ways the Welch case differs from yours. That would be an ominous sign.

With love,

Your friend Bucky

— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail info@burkefamilylaw.com.