Randall M. Kessler -High profile divorce lawyer, Chaired ABA Family Law Section, Author
As a divorce lawyer for nearly 30 years, I have heard many things said over and over. Some ring true, some are born of anger and others concisely set forth the wisdom of those who have learned how to survive this sometimes terrible process. While narrowing it down to ten was a challenge, here are what I believe to be the ten most frequently heard clichés, statements or comments made by those going through a divorce.
10. It’s not about the money.
While I agree with this and most often divorce is not about money, but about closure, moving forward and protecting children, this statement is often made by those who are angry and feel like they must fight for “principle.” Unfortunately, rarely are “principles” vindicated; rather, judges often do their best to protect children, allocate rights and duties regarding children and divide money and debts as best they can, and often as quickly as they can. There is no time left for the judge to consider or comment on the “principle.”
9. Just wait until the judge hears what he/she did.
This is similar to fighting about principle. So many people truly want the judge to hear how bad their spouse is and they hope that will translate into a favorable ruling. Unfortunately the judge is and must be more concerned with how to shape the children’s future environment and how to divide the family’s assets and debts. And the conduct of one spouse towards the other is often much less important to a judge than it is to the parties.
8. I can’t believe they are going to bring that up.
Also similar, but sort of the reverse of number 9. Many people have minimized their own contributions to the end of the relationship and are shocked to learn that the other side is still mad about something that may have happened years ago. Hurt feelings can last a lifetime and divorce is when they usually surface.
7. I want him/her to go to jail for perjury.
Yes people lie. They lie out of court and sometimes in court. But rarely is it prosecuted as a crime. The reasons vary but most often this is because it is hard to prove 100% (or “beyond a reasonable doubt”) that they are lying, or the lying is not particularly relevant or important to the court (like lying about whether you had 1 affair or 2). Perjury is a crime and the criminal courts have insufficient time to prosecute even all of the major crimes brought before them. While perjury prosecutions arising from a divorce case do sometimes occur, they are rare.
6. I’d rather pay my lawyer than pay my spouse anything.
Similar to number 10, but in a way, worse. Divorce lawyers hear this often and must remind clients that they will not feel that way forever and that it is foolish. Good lawyers dissuade clients from feeling this way.
5. I don’t care how long it takes.
Yes people going through a divorce say this, often. But it is usually said by someone who did not want the divorce and does not want the other spouse to move on with their life (especially if the other spouse has a new love interest).
4. Can’t you tell the judge a what a jerk he/she is?
Similar to number 9, but again, people believe that if we can prove how bad the other is, it makes them look better by comparison. However, the opposite is usually true. They are then sinking to the same level and getting into a tit-for-tat argument instead of rising above and reaching a peaceful resolution, if for no other reason than for the kids’ sake.
3. I want a “shark” for a lawyer.
It is incredible how often people think that a mean, aggressive lawyer is what is best. Eventually most people realize that this is not what is most likely to bring them successful resolution. A good lawyer will certainly be zealous in their representation, but will also look for and find ways to resolve the case short of a full blown trial. And being an angry shark rarely helps bring peaceful resolution. A lawyer can be strong without being over-the-top aggressive. Subtle and quiet strength often goes much farther with a judge.
2. He’s a narcissist.
Well sometimes we hear “She’s a narcissist,” but much more often the claim is made that the husband is one. Boiled down to an overused cliché, it has come to mean, at least to me, that the other side only cares about him or herself. Almost everyone going through a divorce feels this way to some degree about their spouse.
1. It’s just stuff.
This is perhaps my favorite because when I hear it, I understand that the client is ready to move forward and resolve all pending issues. Furniture, assets, even money is just “stuff.” What most people truly want is happiness and closure. They want a future and until they resolve the divorce, there can be no closure and their future is obstructed. Once they determine that what they are fighting over is “just stuff’, they are on the path to finishing the divorce process.