DIVORCE, SEPARATION and EMOTIONS – A COSTLY MIX.
The single most destructive force in a divorce proceeding is the emotional upheaval that often consumes separated spouses. It is that emotion and the fallout it creates that is the greatest cause of lengthy and costly court battles in divorce situations. Experienced family law lawyers do the best they can to help their clients navigate through the anguish of separation and divorce. However spouses seem to have a need to punish, hurt and control each other and will invest huge amounts of energy in an attempt to achieve that goal.
As divorce professionals we recognize the interplay between the emotional component and the unemotional logic required to effect a principled resolution. That is why we often encourage our clients to enlist the assistance of a therapist. Unfortunately it isn’t always our clients who are the source of the problem. In other cases we do recognize our clients as the initiators of conflict and as the prolongers of conflict. In that situation we sometimes just have to let things run their course and eventually (we hope) logic will prevail. That usually happens either when the money to pay legal fees starts to run out or when the courts start imposing sanctions that bring people to their senses.
There are a few strategies we employ in an effort to redirect people to a quick and satisfactory conclusion of their case. We stress the need to view the settlement of separation issues as a business transaction, and in essence that is what it is all about. If you do reach an out of court settlement you will be signing a contract with your ex spouse called a ‘Separation Agreement’. That contract is crafted to conclude financial issues, support issues, child related issues, property related issues, and generally to release each other from future claims. If you view your dispute as a business dispute then you will start to focus on the best terms you can achieve and you will turn away from the need to hurt and punish your ex spouse.
Emotions can do a great deal of long term damage. The single most serious damage is to the children of your marriage. Children more often than not become the pawns who are pulled in every possible direction by their estranged parents.They become the deliverers of nasty messages. They are often denied the right to spend enough time with the non residential parent. They become more and more upset and more and more confused. Often the damage done to these children lasts a lifetime.
The most popular form of child custody is known as ‘joint custody’. The most sought after parenting regime is called ‘shared parenting’. Joint custody is a necessary component of shared parenting. In order to secure joint custody you must be able to communicated successfully about issues that concern your children. If you are not capable of communicating with your estranged spouse about child related issues then you put the judge in the position of having to pick which parent will have sole custody and which parent will have primary residency of the children.
What are some of the typical behaviours that put joint custody and/or shared parenting at risk? The most problematic and telltale sign of a failure to get along are strings of nasty, aggressive and directive emails and text messages. The very worst thing you can do is put your aggressions in writing. I suspect that there may be some lawyers who actually counsel their clients to try and provoke the other spouse to try and force a sole custody/residency decision.
It is important to understand that a court will not favour the parent who is always nasty, who is always criticizing the other, who is always refusing to cooperate regarding child related matters. It is amazing that some clients who make joint custody and shared parenting their singular most important issue refuse to take our advice about how to behave with the other spouse and how to present themselves in emails, text messages, telephone conversations and in person. The simple truth is that their emotions and their anger is so overwhelming that they simply cannot help themselves. And that is a tragedy because their children have a right to see them as much as possible and have a need to have both their mother and their father in their lives as much as possible.
Child related results are not the only areas in dispute that you put at risk by allowing your emotions to drive your decisions and your actions. If you present an overall bad image to the court you may find that there is an undertone of prejudice against you that is very difficult to dispell. So who are the biggest offenders – the wife or the husband. Generally it is the husband and that seems to be due to their inability to take direction – to actually listen to the advice they are being given by their counsel. Women seem much more focused on the end goal and much more prepared to follow guidelines provided to them by their lawyers.
Keep in mind that this is your life, your divorce, your property and your children. Keep in mind that your future is in your control. Most of our clients are going through their first divorce. As divorce lawyers we have gone through hundreds of divorces. Try and listen to what we are advising you. It will serve you well.
Steven M. Bookman, LL.B., Ph.D. is an experienced divorce lawyer who practices in Toronto, Ontario. He can be reached at 416-488-2243 or by email at [email protected]. BOOKMAN LAW PROFESSIONAL CORP. is located at 1881 Yonge Street, Suite 504, Toronto, Canada, M4S 3C4