Taking Control

Now you’re getting to the heart of why Divorceinfo.com is here.

The Role of Judges in Divorce

The Role of Lawyers in Divorce

What You Can Do

How to Do It

The Role of Judges in Divorce

The peculiar challenge of divorce is that there are few real villains. The system of ending marriages is managed by judges, for example, who are toiling the best way they know to deal with crushing caseloads and the stress of dealing every day with raw, bleeding emotional wounds. Imagine how stressful it would be to make decisions every day about the fine china of people’s lives, using only the sketchiest of information about what makes them tick and about how they will cope with the decisions you must make. I don’t envy them.

One of the most exasperating challenges judges face is with litigants who come to court on Tuesday demanding immediate relief from an abusive spouse and who have moved back in with the abuser by the following weekend. Over years, judges quite naturally come to place more trust in the lawyers who practice regularly before them (and whom they see every day) than in the divorcing spouses who pass briefly and painfully before them.

The Role of Lawyers in Divorce

The gladiators who work in divorce court are, by and large, not an evil lot. They too are doing the best job they know to do, in the best way they know to do it. Many of them are men and women of competence, compassion, and dignity who care deeply for their clients. Many of them have become cynical, however, after years of getting beat up by this lousy adversarial system we’ve developed.

  • They distrust their clients, assuming that their clients will stiff them if they get a chance. Too often, they’re right.
  • When their clients aren’t listening (and sometimes even when they are), divorce lawyers make cruel, tasteless jokes at their clients’ expense.
  • They take elaborate measures to stay in control of all aspects involving their relationship with each client.
  • They are remarkably satisfied with unhappy clients.
  • They are remarkably discourteous and seemingly uncaring toward the clients who pay their bills.
You can get a taste of the unvarnished truth your gladiator might tell you if he or she could by reading the Open Letter from Your Divorce Lawyer. Our adversarial system is reasonably good at caring for judges. The system is reasonably good at caring for lawyers. The system fails when it comes to caring for the people actually going through divorce and when it comes to caring for the children of divorce.

What You Can Do

Luckily, you don’t have to be a victim. There is a better way. You can take control of your divorce. You can be the one who makes the key decisions,

  • not your lawyer
  • not your mediator
  • not the judge
  • not your therapist
  • not your minister or rabbi
  • not your mother
  • not your child

It’s harder at the beginning, because you must reject the offer of the knowledgeable professional who tells you gently, “Don’t worry; I’ll take care of you.” You must question and probe for the reason behind the blanket statements you hear from professionals, which will make some professionals nervous, uncomfortable, and distant.

In the long run, though, if you take control of your divorce,

  • You will end up with a more satisfactory resolution of the issues in your divorce
  • You will save time
  • You will save money
  • You will even have a more productive and businesslike relationship with your former spouse when you finish.

How To Do It

There are several things you can do if you’re working to take control of your divorce:

Gather information voraciously

DivorceInfo is a great place to start, but it’s certainly not the only place to find lots of information about your divorce.

  • You can check out other sites on the Internet
  • You can read books about divorce
  • You can talk to your friends. Just remember that your friend’s divorce is not your divorce. There are all kinds of reasons why yours may be different.

Use your lawyer’s time wisely

Your lawyer is a professional. He or she is trained to represent your interests in court, and you want to be attentive to the suggestions he or she makes. Remember, though, that this is your divorce, not your lawyer’s. Listen to his or her advice, but feel totally free not to follow it. (To make the best use of your lawyer’s advice, though, make sure you are totally honest with your lawyer about the steps you have taken and will take. If you cannot be totally honest with your lawyer about who is in control of your divorce, find another lawyer.)

It may not be necessary to retain a lawyer at all. Consider the cost-saving alternative of uncontested divorce. Frankly, that’s the way most people get divorced. They gather all the information they can, separately and together, until they have a reasonably accurate idea of the way a judge is likely to rule on their case. They talk to each other and work out a rough idea of how their parting would work. Then they hire one lawyer – not two – to represent one of them and prepare the documents for both to sign and file with the court. Or consider using unbundled legal services in your divorce. For example, you might simply use a lawyer as a coach to give you advice from time to time. You can always retain the lawyer later if that appears necessary.

Talk to your spouse

Of course you don’t want to talk to your spouse. You’re getting a divorce, and one of the main reasons you’re getting it is a difficulty in your relationship with your spouse.

I can tell you without reservation, however, that if you can’t talk to your spouse, your divorce will take longer and cost more. In all likelihood, it will probably hurt more too in the long run, because things will drag out and you will realize at some point that you have lost control.

Even though it hurts, keep the lines of communication and negotiation open to the extent you can. It’s essential if you’re working to stay in control.

Talking with your spouse is a two-way street, of course. If your spouse refuses to talk to you, you may be stuck dealing with him or her through lawyers, at least at the beginning. If this is the case for you, don’t keep trying to start a conversation; that will make your spouse run from you. Simply make sure you remain open to direct communication. You may be surprised how soon the opportunity will present itself.

Think strategically

There are three questions I suggest you ask yourself constantly as you negotiate (or fight in court) with your spouse:

  • How much is this issue worth to me in today’s dollars?
  • How likely is it that I’ll win?
  • What is it costing me to fight about it?

This is so important there’s a separate page on thinking strategically.