Every divorcing couple is angry. The promise of a happy future has been broken, and more often than not, each person blames the other. How that anger impacts on the divorce process and proceedings can have a profound effect on the financial and emotional futures of the couple and their children.
By the time my husband and I decided to get divorced, we were furious at each other. Each of us accused the other of destroying the marriage and the family. Each of us gave friends and relatives and anyone who would listen thousands of examples of why the other one was a terrible person. Neither of us could discuss or even imagine having any part in the problems that led to our divorce.
As for me, my support network fed my anger advising me to hire the most aggressive, nasty lawyer that I could find. Naturally, they (and I) believed that this was the route best tailored to get the most from my soon-to-be-ex-husband. The choices that I made during that vulnerable time were all routed in my rage. Unfortunately, they turned out to be very expensive choices, both in terms of money and emotional damage to myself, my ex-husband, and our children. I often wonder how different things would have been if we had chosen mediation instead of an adversarial process.
As my anger fueled and energized the adversarial process, the divorce took on a life of its own. Lawyers are trained to fight for their clients, which is appropriate in many cases. However, in divorce, the last thing the parties need is to have their anger reinforced. The resulting rage leads to irrational, bad decisions, and the longer the process lasts, the more expensive it becomes. With a lawyer’s support, each party begins to feel victimized and entitled, small issues turn into major problems, and the divorce goes on and on, with each party becoming more firmly entrenched in the belief that he or she is the good guy and the other person is evil. In my case, we were in and out of court for six years before the divorce finally became final.
Eventually a sense of loss of control sets in, as it becomes clear that one’s future will be determined largely by a judge who knows very little about the family case and doesn’t really have time or inclination to carefully ponder the issues. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, my ex-husband and I both felt like losers. Neither of us was happy with the financial arrangements, and we were both emotionally exhausted. Our rage at each other had been impossible to hide from our children, making the whole process much more damaging and difficult for them.
Twenty years later, my ex-husband and I are friendly toward each other. The years of parenting together as a divorced couple has made us realize that we need each other, that our children depend on us to be civil and friendly, and that life is much better if we are respectful to each other. Even though we do not want to be married, the qualities that we loved in each other are still there. We have been together at graduations, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and birthday parties, and our children have appreciated our ability to celebrate these occasions.
How much money would have been saved, and how much angst would have been prevented if we had chosen mediation over the court system all those years ago! If our anger could have been diffused instead of escalated during the divorce process, we would have learned to respect each other so much sooner, and certainly we would have felt (and been) much more in control of our futures. The only people who benefited from our rage were our lawyers. In the end, our rage, our victimization, and our feelings of entitlement, which were encouraged by our lawyers and the court system, led to profound loses for us. I would heartily recommend that every divorcing couple seek out mediation before their feelings of rage escalate to the point that the divorce gets out of control.