Hi, Thomas Ferreira here again, writing to you about surviving and prospering after divorce or other family law litigation. In my office, we’ve had the usual spate of crises this week, and I am reflecting today about why it’s necessary in so many divorce and child custody cases to literally talk people down from the ledge. I continually find myself in the middle of people making ghastly accusations against one another, and Superior Court judges admonishing otherwise law-abiding men and women about their support duties, or their duty of candor toward the court and one another.
The first step in prospering after divorce it to accept what you cannot change.
The divorce court is probably second only to the traffic court as being a persons first or only contact with the judicial system. Yet, it may be the only place where a person can be sued even though they’ve committed no wrongdoing.
In criminal cases, people are summoned to court to defend an accusation that they have committed a crime. In civil court, the defendant will be charged with negligently injuring the plaintiff or perhaps breaching a contractual obligation to the plaintiff. The paradigm is right versus wrong, good versus evil.
By contrast, divorce cases usually involve otherwise law-abiding citizens, forced to use an adversarial system to settle what are essentially family issues. The system is set up for the paradigm plaintiff and defendant, with both sides incentivized to paint the other party in the worst possible light. Thus the attempts of courts to manage ongoing family relationships inevitably make those relationships worse and more divided.
The second step is to stop seeing your ex as your enemy.
It is said that criminal court cases involve bad people behaving at their best, and family law cases involve good people behaving at your worst. If you don’t believe me, sit in on a regular family law calendar in Superior Court.
In matters of child custody, the children have a strong interest in cooperation. The advice I give here might seem counter-intuitive, but here goes: Stop trying to “win” the battle, and focus your energy on making a great world for your children. Stop trying to push the parenting time needle in your direction, and start using the time you have to build solid parent-child relationships.
A funny thing happens when you stop trying to win. You’re less manipulative with the children and more focused on their wellbeing. Your focus becomes making your current family better, and that, in the long run, results in the court awarding you more time.
Even if there are no children, there are usually support obligations, and these can be resolved by refocusing your attention from the zero-sum game of litigation, and on to how to create the parties’ desired post-divorce life. Supported spouses know intuitively that relying on an ex-spouse for financial security is not empowering. Divorce is a time to refocus priorities on what you want for the future. How do you take the resources in the marital estate (including the parties’ ability to earn) and leverage that into the life that you always wanted? What have you always wanted to do for a living? What is your ultimate contribution to society and how do you make that happen.
Seen that way, support becomes a tool to become free from control, financially independent and career-fulfilled. This also benefits the paying spouse, as the supported spouse becomes self-sufficient and less in need of financial support.
The third step is thus to move on to the next chapter in your life. Divorce will happen, whether you want it to or not. It’s time to take stock of your life and decide what future you want. The choice is to remain stuck in the old marital dependency or to move on to an independent and fulfilled life.
Hoping this inspires you to run the race with confidence to your ultimate life goals, I remain …
Very truly yours,