When you are in the middle of a difficult divorce the line between normalcy and insanity often becomes blurred. Can this REALLY be happening?
Everyone has a story and many contain salacious details you wouldn’t believe. Some examples include: the spouse lowering suitcases by bungee cord out of a 2nd floor window to the convertible car waiting below, bank statements falsified in Photoshop, children having to change clothes in the car at drop-off so they don’t take the clothes ”she” bought for them to “his” house, a mother handing off a young child to the father in front of his apartment, only to discover he was homeless and sleeping with the child on a park bench, videos of unsavory cash transactions, hidden tracking devices, canceled credit cards, 911 calls and child protective services (CPS) reports. This is the tiniest and cleanest sliver of the endless “you can’t make this stuff up” anecdotes that define the chaotic underbelly of divorce.
If the sheer absurdity of some situations doesn’t make you laugh, you cry. A lot. Divorce might be a source of entertainment on TV or in film, but when you are in the middle of it, it is anything but entertaining. The message here is simply this: while it might feel as if no one in the world has faced what you are facing, you are not alone.
The good news is that you are not alone. The bad news is that divorce professionals and the courts have heard it ALL. So, when you walk in owning the stories that make up your divorcing nightmare, rarely will they have the impact you hope for and expect. This feeling can be terribly deflating. To lawyers, your story is simply a case with a set of facts that lead to a strategy, and it can be frustrating when they don’t share your outrage. However, it’s important to understand that they spend every day on cases replete with bad behavior and as trained professionals, their job is to focus on moving it through a legal process.
The legal system is desensitized to outrageous stories. I had a client say, with great indignant flair, “isn’t that just the worst thing you have ever heard?” I wanted to validate her experience as being awful because it was, but I had to tell her that no one in the courtroom would share in her fury and that it would be in her best interest to focus on her end game.
Rather than putting all of your energy into the story (particularly with expensive lawyers), channel that energy into the end game. Well, what is the end game? Is it to use the narrative to expose and humiliate your spouse? Is it to extract a financial or parenting penalty? Achieving either of those is rare and often hugely disappointing. And the path to try to do so is extremely costly. So perhaps the end game should be getting out and moving on. It might not feel as (temporarily) exhilarating as the other options, but it is no longer about them and what they have done. It is finally all about you, your freedom, your future, and your peace of mind. Those extraordinary stories should be shared, dissected and analyzed with a therapist, because they are a part of your story, and part of a relationship you never want to repeat. However, they don’t often have an impact on the divorce process that you might expect.
Spouses have more power than they realize to manage the process and manage their professionals to a settlement. It starts with the right mindset that recognizes the deep imperfection of the system and the cost-benefit to getting out and moving forward. I always encourage spouses to be informed and empowered to participate in the process and do whatever is possible to bring the conflict to an end so that life can begin anew.
(This is not to imply that if there is domestic violence or unsafe situations that require intervention that the experts will not be immediately helpful to guide and protect you and your family. If you are in a situation that is unsafe, call your local authorities. This is advice for those who become attached to their “story” of the chaos in their situation and a false expectation that it will have a measurable impact on the divorcing process.)