Ever known someone who went through a divorce, and they acted like a crazy person?
Bet you have. So have I.
Wives who cut the crotches out of their husband’s best pants. Husbands who threw their wives’ wedding and engagement rings into the nearest lake. Wives who let their husband’s favorite dog loose on the street. As Rex Harrison – who played the King of Siam opposite Irene Dunne in the 1940’s movie “Anna and The King of Siam” – said: “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”
Let’s face it, a lot of spouses in a lot of divorces act more like irresponsible, petulant teenagers than grownups who are working to end their marriages non-controversially, divide their estates in a cost-efficient, fair manner and craft a low-conflict parenting plan that is in their children’s best interest.
Why is this so, and can it be changed?
Well, as to the first question, divorce and custody disputes are intensely personal matters which don’t lend themselves to objectivity. Been a lawyer for nearly thirty-eight years, and have interviewed literally thousands of men and women during that time. Not one of them has said “I’m here in the worst interest of my children” or “I intend to work for an unfair division of our estate.” Not one. Nor am I holding my breath until one shows up.
I bet you that if you go out right now and ask the first twenty people you meet “Are you a good driver?” they’d all say “Yes, I am.” Do you see a lot of bad drivers on the road? Yes, all the time. Every day and everywhere. So where do these bad drivers come from if we all say we’re good drivers? Bad drivers are the self-same people who say they’re good drivers – and probably even believe it themselves. Let’s face it, very few of us can be truly objective when it comes to our faults although we have an enormous capacity for pointing out even the most trivial of faults in everyone else.
This blindness to our own faults is probably just part of what it means to be a human being. If so, then it’s been around a long time. Jesus spoke to it two thousand years ago when he commented on our propensity to see the mote in our brother’s eye while ignoring the log in our own. And while we can’t necessarily change our lack of objectivity we can at least be aware of it.
Secondly, divorce deals with some of the most sensitive and important things we will ever have – our marriages, estates and children – which in turn calls into play our image of ourselves and our sense of self-worth, as well as our (ever present in the modern age) anxieties. Bad enough to be criticized as a crummy driver (or an ineffective lawyer) but if we’re taken to task by our spouse for being a bad spouse or a poor parent, then our better half has gone from preaching to meddling, as they say, and we don’t take that very well.
Being human beings, we tend to hit back. Right? You criticize me as being a bad dad then I’ll criticize you as being a mediocre mom. And away we go. Litigation not only allows us to lack objectivity and engage in schoolyard taunting but, frankly, too often encourages and sponsors it. Hate to say it, since I’m a lawyer, but too often that has to do with lawyers who bill by the hour being able to bill more hours in a case with two angry, non-objective spouses who blame each other for everything bad and negative in their lives.
So what’s to be done?
Well, first of all, a person who is going to get divorced should take stock of where his/her spouse is at, emotionally. Most of the negative energy which powers needless and wasteful divorce disputes comes from this: one spouse takes mental and emotional leave of the marriage long before the other, and the one who has “left” doesn’t want to stick around and allow his/her spouse to catch-up. Big mistake. Need to give the other party a chance to deal with being divorced, and since to a lot of people divorce is like a small death, they will go through the stages of grief. If you catch them in denial or anger, bad karma for your case. Better to give them space and time, first, before putting the pedal to the metal. Be patient. Or, as the old saying goes, less haste and more speed.
Secondly, just because someone takes a cheap shot at you doesn’t mean you have to cheap-shot right back. I often advise my clients that if someone is going to be an adult in their divorce/custody case then it’s probably the parent to whom I’m speaking (apologies, Lily Tomlin), because that other parent is acting (and will probably continue to act) like a spoiled brat. And if my client wishes to teach his/her kids how to handle adversity well, and with dignity, then the divorce is the very best opportunity for a teaching moment, so don’t waste it.
Finally, don’t hire (or keep) lawyers who want to stir the pot and keep everyone agitated. Look for attorneys who are problem solvers, who want to keep you out of court and who are well-versed in the various modes of resolving disputes, especially mediation and collaborative divorce. Don’t be in a hurry. Try not to take things (too) personally, and always act in a manner that sets a good example for your children, no matter what.
Peace, grace and good luck to you.