Six Wrong Turns on the Road to Divorce — And How to Avoid Them

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February 14, 2014 by sandyonyourside

wrong turn The whole idea of getting divorced is to be divorced, right? Then why do so many divorces go on and on and on and on, taking months, even years, to complete?

Divorce attorneys will tell you that the greatest roadblock to final divorce is that one of the spouses, maybe both, is being “unreasonable” (they use other terms).

Sure, there are issues worth fighting tooth-and-nail for, like keeping kids safe. But most divorces don’t involve extreme situations.

In fact, the outcome of most divorces is foreseeable even before the papers are filed. That’s because — unlike in the bad old days, when divorce settlements depended on the individual predilections of (almost always male) judges — there’s a great deal of consistency and predictability in today’s divorce law.

Today’s laws provide strict mathematical formulas for child support, and increasingly, for alimony.  Judges have specific factors they must consider for deciding how to divide property, and the definition of property has expanded to include nearly anything of value.

Laws dictate when a custodial parent can move out of state with the children, and most custody and visitation arrangements now give parents approximately equal time with the kids, absent a showing of harm.  As if to emphasize this new normal, courts are doing away with loaded terms like “visitation agreement” in favor of more neutral terms like “parenting plan.”

In other words, with clearer rules of engagement, for most of us there’s a lot less to fight about in today’s divorce court, which is why mediation has become a popular alternative.

I don’t discount the emotional pain of divorce.  I know about it first-hand.  But as an ex-divorce lawyer, I also know there are plenty of helpful and appropriate avenues for dealing with the pain, and divorce court isn’t one of them.

Every dollar you spend on your divorce is a dollar less for your retirement or the kids’ education.  You don’t want to rob your future to pay your divorce attorney.  And even if you’re representing yourself, what is the benefit of putting your and the kids’ mental health at risk by delaying the inevitable?

The Six Wrong Turns

1.        Using the divorce for ulterior purposes. Here are some things no divorce court can do:

*   dispense Divine Justice

*   wreak revenge

*   change someone’s personality

*  award you a medal for being a good person

*  humiliate your spouse for being a jerk

*   bring you two back together

Divorce court isn’t a win/lose court, like criminal court.  It’s a settlement court, where each side wins a little and loses some.  Period.  Divorce cases fueled by overheated emotions or wishful thinking only cause delay and expense and pile more stress onto an already stressful situation.

2          Using the kids as weapons.  A great way to mess kids up is to use them as projectiles in divorce (it’s called parental alienation).  But there are subtle as well as dramatic ways that kids get used as weapons in divorce, and these are scarring too.  Like being quizzed about the other parent after visitation, (over)hearing one parent badmouth the other, being the messenger between parents, being enlisted as a spy, being used to pass child support and other money between the parents, being pitted against siblings, and being used as an emotional crutch.

The only role for a child in the divorce process is (1) to receive clear messages from each parent that the child is loved and (2) to be supported in maintaining his or her relationship with the other parent.  Parents who can’t do both need professional help.

3.         Overusing motions and contempts.   Dishonest divorce attorneys know the best way to pile up legal fees is to fan the emotional flames.  The more a client runs to court (“Little Johnny was dropped off fifteen minutes late!!”  “His golf clubs are still in the garage!!”  “She took the kid for a manicure without my permission!!”), the more the billable hours pile up, and the fatter the fees.  If your attorney wants to take your every grievance with your spouse to court, run the other way, fast.

4.         Playing the violence/abuse card.  Have you ever seen a woman’s face scarred by her husband cutting her with a bottle? Or seen a young boy tremble with terror from head to toe at the prospect of facing his parental tormentor?  If so, then you probably feel the same stomach-churning disgust as I do at overblown accusations of domestic violence. Spousal and child abuse is a crime, not a litigation strategy.

5.         Unreasonable settlement posturing.  I once sat in on a settlement conference where the parties spent over an hour arguing about who would get a certain sleeping bag.  And then, once that was decided, they spent another half hour wrangling over who would pay the postage to ship the sleeping bag to the victor. One sleeping bag = $ 800.00 in attorneys’ fees.  Don’t, just don’t.

6.         Compromising other relationships.  It doesn’t–and shouldn’t–take a village to get divorced.  Involving your or the kids’ doctors, teachers, friends, relatives, bosses, co-workers, and acquaintances in divorce is a sure way to poison your future relations with them, fan the rumor mill, and embarrass yourself.  Don’t involve third parties unless you absolutely have no choice.

A certain amount of friction is probably inevitable in every divorce, given the nature of the beast.  The trick is not to let that friction throw you off course.  Yes, special circumstances require special responses, but it’s easy during the emotional divorce process for people to mistake their individual anxieties for an objective crisis.

If you can avoid these wrong turns, you and your kids will walk into your post-divorce life in far better emotional and financial shape.  If you can avoid these wrong turns but your spouse can’t, you may have to involve an attorney (or a better attorney) or court investigators to get things back on track.

Let us know if you have other successful strategies for keeping a divorce on track.

Oh, and Happy Valentines Day!

Sandy Lundy


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This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Also, it does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author, Sandy Lundy, and any reader or correspondent.

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