Acrimonious divorces can bring you down to your knees financially, and destroy your health. Worse, they will emotionally injure your children.
The difference between a bitter and a healthy divorce depends on the choices you and your ex-partner make. A divorce involves a couple, not individuals. One or both of you can choose to have a bitter divorce. Conversely, both of you can choose to have an amicable one.
Most separations start with civility. However, one of the many causes or outcomes of divorce involves issues that developed during the marriage, such as resentment or an injury to self that can no longer be healed throught talking and repairs attempts. Divorce allows a partner to express their hurt and anger by opposing their former mate through the legal processs.
The fight might involve manipulation, generally about the children, the finances, or any form of social pressure. As one party throws allegations, the other feels a need to protect themselves and to respond in kind. An inexorable, escalating spiral of tit-for-tat retaliation takes place.
Characteristics of acrimonious divorces. They:
- Lead to litigated adversarial stances.
- Make it difficult for you not to counter if the other is warring against you.
- Create bad feelings and anger that cannot be kept under control, and usually include attempts to vindicate the past (e.g., he was unfaithful, she was a neglectful mother)
- Involve mutual self-defeat.
- Cause the children to suffer emotionally, as negative emotions cripple the parents
- Mess up your health during the process, which could last several months if not years. It could ruin any opportunity to rebuild a better life and relationship.
- Are costly. Your economic resources could be used for your and your children’s’ benefit instead of being squandered.
- You all lose.
Characteristics of healthy divorces:
- They are civil, cooperative, and sometimes even amicable. Animosity and battling are kept to a minimum.
- The reasons making a divorce go bad are fully understood and avoided (see next paragraph).
- Have legal, economic and emotional objectives: they end the marriage within a reasonable timeframe without massive legal and other fees, distribute assets and income fairly, economic sacrifices are equally shared, both partners are allowed to grieve the end of the marriage and each can move on to new relationships without baggage.
- They foster a sense of economic justice and basic trust as the other is not demonized. Communication remains effective, with mutual goodwill.
- They achieve legitimate and positive goals for yourselves and your children.
- Settlement agreements are negotiated before going to court. Economic issues such as child and spousal support are resolved, the property is equitably divided, and mutual rights and responsibilities as parents are spelled out in a fair custody agreement.
- They minimize emotional impact on children and help them adjust to a new situation.
- They transition to a new life for your all.
Reasons divorces go sour:
- Though separating, you are still married. No matter how much distrust, pain and anger you feel, and the need for vindication or revenge, you are still emotionally connected. Fighting through a divorce is a means to ‘stay together’ for the duration of the proceedings.
- There is no economic justice, such as an enormous financial disparity between the partners, where one feels victimized by the other.
- There is no trust: one has demonized the other and has not given the benefit of the doubt when disputes arise.
- No communication skills: communications are uneffective and their style is not conducive to future cooperative parenting.
- There is no goodwill. Each expartner wishes ill upon the other and does not support the children in accepting the other’s new mate or lifestyle.
- The nature of the legal system is adversarial and based on opposition instead of cooperation.
- One or both partners’ behavior is abusive, stemming from a need for control or revenge, anger, flaring emotions, and because all that was disliked in the other and messed the relationship up is now resurfacing during divorce: years of managed dysfunctions will now explode in the space of a few weeks. Tactics will include:
– Contesting parental fitness (invoking drug abuse or various addictions, irresponsible, neglectful or abusive parenting, mental instability, reckless spending, etc.)
– Endless spats of grounded or groundless allegations, some designed to drag the divorce and cause financial harm.
– Intimidation and scare tactics, with threats such as “I’ll get custody of the kids”, “I won’t pay”, etc.
– Hiding assets well ahead of requesting for divorce or during the divorce, or failing to account accurately for one’s possessions.
- The impossibility to reconcile emotions and rationality. On one hand, one must fight against the fear of becoming economically destitute, to protect self against the new ‘enemy’, or worry that the children might be stolen or their mind poisoned by the other. On the other hand, there is the memory that there was love once and the knowledge that the expartner is the key to the children’s emotional and psychological health.
- If settlement agreements are unfair and unworkable or incomplete, the feelings of bitterness and injustice that emanate from them lead to regrettable actions, such as defaulting on child support obligations or not adequately meeting the children’s economic needs. When flawed, the settlement will need to be reworked in court.
- Negative feelings interfere with readjustment, growth, and new relationships.
- Social circles are broken as family, friends and acquaintances take side, and sometimes even interfere with the divorce process.
- Fears about custody arrangements and alienation from the children.
You can take measures to protect yourself and the children, and to ensure a reasonable divorce or at least, contain the effects of a bad one:
- Minimize stressors in your life. Allegations and fights may be part of your divorce process. Each time you are accused of whatever fault by your partner’s lawyer , you will be emotionally flooded. Flooding impedes rational thinking and you could make a mistake in defending yourself as you create doomsday scenarios in your head and succumb to panic.
- Whenever an allegation is thrown at you, sleep if off. Do not answer immediately. Allow your feeling of injustice or rage to wither before you formulate an answer.
- Be prepared. Anticipate your worst case scenario, such as losing significant parts of your assets, losing visitation or shared custody of the children, not getting enough financial support, etc. Plan accordingly. Follow up with a best case scenario and a realistic scenario will emerge.
- Answer allegations one at a time. One at a time. Sort and address each issue separately when several are raised all at once. Collect whatever evidence you have, text messages, documents, statements, pictures, videos, any recorded media, and organize them in a folder, one for each allegation. Give that folder to your lawyer. Keep adding to it. Whether you ex partner’s allegation is correct or baseless, you need to collect mitigating evidence or evidence to the contrary. If you make an allegation, be prepared to stack supporting evidence.
– Was he a big spender who imperiled family finances? Was she a gambler? Back it up. Get the receipts and credit card statements, match them against your documented income by way of bank or other statements.
– Did he abuse the children? Back it up. Get records from doctors and counselors or ask for psych evaluations of the children. If you have photographs or texts exchanged after such incidents, print them out. If you are the accused, and you are certain that she purports such allegations so to deprive you of your custody rights, then appoint third parties to do the discovery for you. As paid and impartial professionals, they’ll bring their findings to the table.
– Does he say that you are preventing access to the children? Keep a record of calls and visits. Stop attempting to minimize visits if no visible abuse has taken place.
– Does he say that you are a drunk….. and you are? Mitigate. Show proof that you are seeking help for your alcoholism.
– Does she say that you have some mental issues, and you do? Show evidence that you are undergoing therapy, taking medication, and seeking help.
– What if you are not an alcoholic, you are not suffering from mental issues? Get a report from a GP and a specialist, then get a psych assessment.
– Does he say that you are unwilling to compromise and you make unreasonable demands? Call a mediator, and show proof that you attempted conciliation on whatever issue he accused you of stalling.
- Concentrate on the big issues. Petty ‘he says-she says’ fights get expensive when handled by lawyers. Get third parties to help you, understanding that you, and you alone can keep your agents in check.
- Do not attack the character of your ex-partner, especially to the children. This could be construed as an attempt to alienate the children.Concentrate on managing your partner’s behaviors instead.
- Keep it business-like. Don’t add fuel to the fire. If answering emails or texts is too emotionally taxing and risk a scathing reply, then have someone else handle it, or wait to read them.
Note: I worked for the State of Colorado district courts as an investigator, and as advocate in cases involving custody of children caught in domestic disputes, separations and divorce. I was appointed to act in the best interest of the child. As such I am very familiar with acrimonious domestic and divorce cases, and I am fully trained to assess impacts on the children caught in such situations.