Is Your Soon-To-Be-Ex An Idiot?
I’m going to bust a divorce myth that makes a mockery of any sane divorce strategy. It’s the one called: “Oh no, my husband/wife won’t use mediation.”
Now stay with me, because you’re smart, right? And you don’t want to be making a mistake believing in a myth that could cost you thousands, and many years of strife? There has to be a divorce strategy that will work better than believing in myths?
Let me explain:
Your spouse might currently be making mediation impossible — but think about it for a minute: If they were in their right mind, they would know that coming to an agreement with the help of a mediator compared to endless solicitors letters, court battles and years of suffering both financially and emotionally — well, only an idiot would go for the court option, wouldn’t they?
But it may be that your spouse is currently not in their right mind, because perhaps they don’t even realise how stupid they are being, because they don’t have anyone telling them the full truth of the situation. To be honest, their current divorce strategy is pretty lame.
But now they have you. Because you’re intelligent, and you know that it’s pretty obvious that spending vast amounts of money on legal fees just to get to a worse outcome (because now you have less to share as you’ve donated so much to the law firms) — well that doesn’t make sense on any level, does it? Not if there are better ways to come to the same agreement. And you know this now, so you’re not going to keep it a secret, are you?
And anyway, you wouldn’t have married an idiot, would you? Because you’re smart, and whatever else you might feel about your spouse right now, you know for a fact that they are not stupid. Just temporarily misguided and ill-informed.
So what’s the real problem with the ‘won’t use mediation’ myth? The real problem is, that you actually believed it.
Only not anymore. Now you can clearly see how only a complete fool would choose court battles over a peaceful mediated solution; or the option of using collaborative lawyers who keep you out of court; or even an arbitrator if you just can’t agree and need a ‘private judge’ to make the decision for you. These are all sensible divorce strategies, available to you right now.
So what do you do whilst your spouse is temporarily insane?
All you need to do is continue to assume that your spouse will wake up at some point and be back in their right mind. Because if they don’t, that makes them a complete prat, and you didn’t marry a fool, did you?
So to speed up their return to sanity, you can say things like:
“Look, if you want to drag this into court and spend thousands on lawyers and barristers which could have been spent on your children’s university fees, go ahead. Meanwhile — because I’m smart — I’ll self-represent with minimal legal back up at a fraction of the cost because I don’t want to waste money better kept for our kids.
And I’ll keep holding the door open for mediation or any form of sensible sane dispute resolution that you are willing to engage in. And any judge will be unimpressed by your decision to fight, whilst I am visibly and constantly holding out a better way to divorce, a more peaceful one, so the judge may also think you are being a bit of a twat.
Eventually those voices in your head (lawyers; mates down the pub; more lawyers) will be replaced by the blindingly obvious fact that their advice is largely unhelpful, unless they are telling you to stay out of court. Which from what I’ve heard, seems to be unlikely.
So I’ll just hold this space for you whilst you return to your rightful thinking, because it’s really hard for you to fight a battle when your opponent is consistently suggesting sitting down with the peace pipe or other out-of-court solutions.
In fact, as the ‘war’ progresses, you will look increasingly silly, like some manic despot firing a rifle at the stars on an empty battlefield, while I’m in the Cafeteria biding my time till you return to your senses. I know that you will, because I didn’t marry an idiot. And I’m prepared to hold onto that belief until you come back to yourself again. I’ll hold that space for you.”
What if I married a narcissist or an abuser?
If you married a total narcissist who is using the court system to abuse you emotionally and financially, the common belief is that dispute resolution is not going to work. But narcissists love the family law system. It’s their playground. If you go into battle with someone who lacks empathy and who is prepared to destroy their children to ‘win’ in court, then you don’t stand a chance in hell if you take up arms in court to fight against them.
I’m not saying that you won’t ever need to use the courts to clarify certain boundaries. But it doesn’t make sense to use it as a knee-jerk reaction because that’s what everyone tells you to do because ‘dispute resolution won’t work with narcissists’. Apparently. What’s important, is that you have to be smarter than them (or get help from other people who are smarter than them). Those people may need to use aspects of legal enforcement to clarify boundaries (Restraining orders, Child Contact orders for example) in order to make sure your spouse knows where the boundaries lie.
But even a narcissist doesn’t want to spend thousands on a financial agreement if they don’t need to — it’s just that they need to be right. So if you use Collaborative Law to stay out of court and to come to an agreement, you may want a specialist coach (a specialist in dealing with narcissists) sitting by your side during the negotiations. And you might want to make sure that these Collaborative Lawyers have undergone some training in dealing with these ‘unreasonable’ clients.
So it’s not impossible to make use of dispute resolution in such cases, but you might need a bit of court time at certain points, and a trained team to support you. Or you can just spend years battling it out in court. It’s up to you.
“Can’t use dispute resolution in domestic abuse cases” I hear you cry.
Well, that’s what people say — and you can get legal aid for a solicitor if there is abuse (depending on your income) because the assumption is that mediation won’t be appropriate. Well conventional mediation won’t be. But what about the other ways of mediating?
If you follow the standard guidance, you will end up in court. And that means, you could end up (at the time of writing) in court with your abusive partner self-representing and having a great time telling all kinds of tales about you, in front of you, and the judge.
Or — (what a shame if no-one mentioned it as an option) — you can conduct mediation from a room where your spouse cannot enter, with the mediator shuttling back and forth. Or via the internet, in a safe location. Perhaps with a cup of tea and a supportive friend or coach or therapist by your side. Would that scenario not hold out more benefits than being in the same court room, potentially being publicly questioned by the very person who has abused you in the past?
I am not trying to pretend that any solution is going to be easy. I’m not trying to undermine those therapists and mediators who ascertain that mediation and other forms of dispute resolution is not appropriate if abuse or narcissism is involved. What I’m saying is that the alternative of court is surely no better if rated on the level of stress and trauma that the abused person may undergo during the experience, so why not at least explore the possibility of alternatives?
Because abusers and narcissists are not all idiots. So why decide on their behalf to only have court as an option and leave them the single choice of the playground of a conventional adversarial system?
And what fuels my confusion with why so many — including mediators themselves — are so quick to dismiss more creative forms of dispute resolution when one spouse clearly ticks the ‘narcissist’ or ‘abuser’ tick box, is how rarely they offer any other solutions at all. Just going to war.
Why doesn’t anyone ever mention family arbitration? Where a trained specialist arbitrator with often far more knowledge of the family law system than many judges in a family law court, and more time to get to know a couple’s particular case, can make the final decisions for those couples who are unable to come to agreement themselves. No court. No drawn-out litigation. Just a fee to the arbitrator and the job is done.
Fighting in court is like pointing nukes at each other and believing that this is a viable way to end a dispute. Wars are not ended by both sides nuking each other, partly because there is nothing left for either of them after the battle (which does happen in some divorces) — but because only an idiot would think that responding to a hostile attack by being equally hostile, actually works.
Most wars end because one side becomes so exhausted and fed up that they capitulate. And they don’t just end with the financial order from the judge. Those angry divorces can keep on going back to court or fighting terrorist actions, using the children as ammunition, for years.
And what kind of a valiant victory is that? “Yay kids! I’ve worn daddy down to a shadow of his former self, pushed him almost to suicide and now he can no longer afford to have you guys stay over because he lives in a bedsit in a dodgy part of town. What a victory!”
I don’t think the kids will see that as much of a victory, do you?
How do countries that have been at war for years find a resolution? The kind of resolution that leads to long term peace?
They create a Peace Treaty.
People who create peace treaties are generally heralded as brave, visionary, moral. They are rarely accused of being an idiot.
How can friends, families and colleagues support others who are embarking on an adversarial divorce?
The next time you hear someone claim that their soon-to-be-ex won’t use some form of dispute resolution, which is essentially the creation of a full-on peace treaty, ask them: “Is your spouse an idiot?”
But the real questions should be (though you won’t dare to ask it):
“If you believe that they won’t use dispute resolution, then you must believe they are an idiot. Why don’t you educate them? Why don’t you hold out that opportunity — which can be opted into at any point?”
It’s never too late to change course for the better. Never too late to re-assess your divorce strategy. Isn’t it better to create your own Peace Treaty rather than to watch your soon-to-be-ex behave like a fool, and to convince yourself that there is no other option, without even trying those other options out?”
It only takes one person to stay sane to change everything.
Are you ready to be that person?