Myths are widely-held beliefs not based in reality. When they become attached to highly-emotional subjects, such as divorce, they can become extremely powerful in shaping both desires and actions. I offer my personal list of myths about divorce in the hope that puncturing these false beliefs will be helpful.
- The party with the most aggressive attorney will achieve the best outcome. People who are contemplating divorce are generally feeling fearful and insecure. And those feelings often create a desire to find an advocate who will take aggressive action on your behalf. However, it is worth considering what “the best outcome” means to different people. For many clients, objectives such as protecting the children from damaging conflict, maintaining a constructive co-parenting relationship with the other party, preserving financial assets for the family rather than spending them on attorney fees, and maintaining privacy and control over the divorce process are key to a good outcome. Depending on your priorities, the most aggressive attorney does not mean the best attorney for you.
- Adultery causes divorces. There is no question that adultery is a breach of the trust essential to a strong marriage. However, adultery rarely occurs in isolation. Rather, it is generally just one of the signs of a marriage that is experiencing significant problems and often is the result, not the cause, of the problems. In addition, many couples in marriages that have been undermined by infidelity go on to repair the damage to their relationship, often with professional help. Interestingly, research has shown that marriages in which the infidelity is voluntarily disclosed have a better chance of surviving than those in which it is kept secret by the unfaithful party.
- The first party to file in court has an advantage. Clients who feel an extreme urgency to be the first party to file for divorce in court are surprised to learn that this is not important to judges. Both parties will have an opportunity to lay their case fully before the court in their pleadings, and the fact that one went first is of no relevance. In fact, sometimes the surprise filing backfires, simply inflaming tensions and making the possibility of settlement much more remote. Rather than rushing to the courthouse, a divorcing party is best served by developing a careful strategy taking into account the legal, psychological and relational dimensions of divorce.
- Divorce is always ugly. The most important decision you will make in your divorce process is whom to hire to represent you. You will be well advised to look for an attorney who is skilled in a variety of conflict-resolution options, including negotiation, mediation and Collaborative Practice, in addition to litigation. Most divorce professionals are in agreement that the court-based process known as litigation is hugely destructive in matters involving family relationships because it is inherently an adversarial process focused on “winning” rather than on problem solving. However, with the right priorities and the right professionals, divorce need not be ugly and destructive.
- You will spend a lot of money getting divorced. You, the client, have a great deal of control over how much money you spend in your divorce. Here are examples of things you have control over: (1) whether to be flexible or inflexible in the positions you take, (2) whether you deal with your emotions in a healthy way, and (3) whether you look for creative, outside-the-box solutions with appeal to the other party as well as to you. So in many different ways, from being efficient and organized in your communications with your attorney to doing a cost-benefit analysis as you make decisions in your divorce, you can take actions to impact the cost of your divorce.