CONFESSIONS OF A DIVORCE LAWYER: The Cost of Anger, Part 1

By Debbie Hoffman at HD Collaborative Law

I know you’ve heard it before.

When you separate from your spouse, you go through a grieving process.  You go through stages:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and (finally) acceptance.  The grief you experience during a separation can mimic the grief you experience when someone dies.  However, unlike other types of grief, separation often brings with it the added bonuses of jealousy and the need for retribution.

CONFESSIONS OF A DIVORCE LAWYER: The Cost of Anger, Part 1

Although there’s never a good time, the absolute worst time to file or respond to court documents is when one or both of you is stuck in anger, and the anger stage usually lasts for a while.

As a society we have been conditioned to seek justice in court.  In my former life as a family law litigator, I watched people throw away a lot of money to feed their anger.  I learned that court is not a justice system; it’s a legal system, and everyone who goes to court pays a huge financial price.

The nature of the litigation beast encourages you to step into your worst self and expose the worst in the person you once loved.  It is designed to keep you firmly entrenched in your anger.  You’ll spend a day or a week or a month thinking about the comebacks and one-liners you’ll use, digging deep into your shared history to excavate the bits and pieces you’ll use to prove that you are right and your ex is wrong.  Those bits become part of an affidavit that will be responded to by your ex.  Once you read that response, any chance the two of you had to be civil to one another at your child’s graduation has gone south, along with thousands of dollars from your savings.

When you decide to go to court, a Judge is appointed to act as the referee, meaning that you have handed the decision making to someone you don’t know and who (and this is much more terrifying) doesn’t know you, except for what he or she has gleaned from the “information” contained in those affidavits.

It’s difficult to let go of anger.  I get that.  Intimacy and time bring opportunities for joy and laughter, and they also bring opportunities to build resentment and contempt.

That said, when you respond to or engage in anger, you will:

  • inflame the situation;
  • say things you will regret; and
  • get the other person as invested in the outcome (and winning) as you are in that moment.

And that’s where the financial cost comes in – when you become invested in winning.

Here’s my advice:  The most effective tool you have when that bad angel is perched atop your shoulder, egging you on or begging you to respond is to take a deep breath and just say no.

Don’t engage.

Because in that moment of pause, you will find that you have options.

I’m not asking you to be a doormat.  Deal with the issue; just don’t engage in the anger – yours or theirs.  If you are consistent, here’s what can happen:

  • your anger will dissipate;
  • your ex will stop baiting you (because it isn’t any fun when you refuse to participate);
  • you will create a better way to communicate with your ex (which is especially important for co-parenting).

Before you text, email, or call; before you open your mouth in anger, ask yourself if it would be okay if everyone in the world, including your kids, heard you say those words.  If it’s okay, then go ahead.  If it’s not okay, then what do you gain by saying them?

Also think about how much each of those words is worth to you, $100?  $500?  If you end up in court having to justify saying them, it’s going to cost you.  The financial price is only one of the costs.  We’ll talk about the emotional costs in the next article in this series.