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When People Use Divorce to Hurt Each Other

In an ideal world, couples would come into a divorce ready to negotiate, willing to settle differences in a way that benefits each of them and their children. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world, and a great number of couples enter into the divorce process not quite ready to work together.

In fact, at some point in the divorce proceedings, one or both parties will do something specifically to hurt the other party – and, sadly, the legal process can be utilized to help one party hurt the other. It could be someone serving his or her spouse with divorce papers, it could be filing a temporary restraining order against a spouse, it could be unreasonable provisions written into the temporary orders, stalling tactics, or even false allegations of abuse.

Even when a couple sits down at the table to work out a settlement, one party’s desire to hurt the other can create major obstacles. I recall one collaborative divorce case I worked on with a high-net-worth couple that lasted more than four years. One of the major issues came from an investment that the husband had made 10 years before they decided to get divorced. The business he invested in became incredibly successful, and she wanted part of that asset as part of the settlement.

However, because she’d been against the investment when he first made it, he didn’t want her to have any part of it, as payback for not trusting his judgment. But she was fighting for a portion of those profits – even though she was independently wealthy and didn’t really need that money – because he had made a number of ill-advised investments during their marriage, and she felt entitled to part of the successful investment to make up for the failed investments he’d made.

Both of them were fighting over an asset for purely emotional reasons, and though the collaborative team helped them toward a resolution of that issue, their emotions led them to expend time, energy, and money – just because they wanted to hurt each other over an issue that contributed to their divorce.

When I’m working with clients, I counsel them not to do anything out of anger or seeking revenge. I encourage all of my clients to go through therapy during the divorce – it’s an emotionally taxing time, and not only does it help them deal with the perfect storm of emotions that divorce churns up, but it also helps them focus on getting to the finish line.

Some say that people going through divorce are in a state of temporary insanity, and while that’s not necessarily true of everyone who goes through it, it’s an often scary, life-disrupting process, and it’s hard to be rational in the face of that. While you don’t have to be rational through the entire divorce, you do have to be rational in certain windows of time, in order to make principled decisions about your assets, your children, and your future. And it can be tempting to lash out at a spouse while in a divorce, using the tools that the legal system inadvertently provides you. But going down that route will lead you to more conflict, further away from the rational place you need to be in to make the best decisions for your post-divorce life.