Divorce litigation sucks for a whole lot of reasons. It is expensive, time-consuming, and ugly. But saving time, money, and energy are not the only reasons why you should avoid litigating your divorce.
There are other, deeper reasons.
What is Divorce Litigation, Anyway?
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, litigation is “a contest in a court of justice for the purpose of enforcing a right.” In other words, litigation means going to court to resolve your disputes and enforce your rights.
Divorce litigation means taking your spouse to court and asking a judge to enforce your rights so that you can (presumably) get justice. Subconsciously (or maybe not so subconsciously) it often also means that you want a judge to tell you that:
- You are right and your spouse is wrong;
- You are entitled to be compensated for the pain your spouse caused you, both during your marriage, and by breaking up your marriage; and
- Your assets should be divided, support should be provided, and your kids should be parented, in exactly the way that you believe is best.
Unfortunately, none of those things is likely to actually happen when you go to court. (Sorry!)
It’s rare that the court will find that either you or your spouse is totally right or totally wrong. Whatever your spouse did to you during the marriage will probably have very little impact on your divorce. Finally, while the judge may give you some of what you want, you will not get everything.
Yet, even knowing that you’re not likely to “win” everything in court, it’s still tempting to want to wage war with your soon-to-be-ex. When divorce happens, especially if it’s a divorce that you didn’t want, you are looking for someone to validate your position. You think that the judge will be that person. You are looking for emotional justice.
Plus, let’s be honest. On some level, deep down, you really want your spouse to suffer.
The Hidden Costs of Divorce Litigation
Of course, fighting in court comes with a price. It takes a tremendous amount of your time, money and personal energy. That’s why so many people try to stay out of divorce court and settle their divorce amicably.
But, when your spouse is being unreasonable, and pushing every last button you have, it’s easy to throw caution to the wind, “lawyer up,” and engage in the War of the Roses.
If you are finding yourself tempted to start fighting with your spouse in court, even though you know that doing so will cost a fortune and probably hurt your kids, here are three more reasons why litigating your divorce is a really bad idea.
1. It’s hard to take off the gloves once you’re used to fighting. The secret that most divorce lawyers won’t tell you about divorce litigation is that it doesn’t end when you’re divorced.
Divorce courts are packed with people who are still in court fighting long AFTER their divorce is already over. Yes, you read that right. Even once you are legally divorced, you can still continue to fight with your ex.
You can fight over what your divorce papers really meant. You can fight to force your spouse to do what s/he was supposed to do but did not do. Or, you can fight over the house. Most of all, you can fight over the kids.
If you fight your way through your divorce like it is an epic battle from The Game of Thrones, the only way you know how to relate to your ex is by fighting. It becomes your pattern. Once that happens, there is a better than average chance that you will continue fighting with your ex for years, or maybe even decades, after your divorce is over.
2. Divorce litigation keeps you locked in your pain. What you focus on expands. Focusing on litigation keeps you focused on fighting. It keeps you locked so deeply in battle, that you don’t even see the collateral damage caused by your war.
Wanting to “win” is addictive. If you want to win in court, you start spending your time documenting everything your spouse does wrong so that you can prove it in court. You no longer talk to your spouse. You talk to your lawyer, who talks to your spouse’s lawyer, who talks to your spouse. It’s like a giant, twisted game of “telephone.”
The more time and energy you spend strategizing how to destroy your spouse in court, the less time and energy you have to actually solve your problems and move on with your life. Without realizing it, winning in court becomes your primary objective. Getting through your divorce, taking care of your kids, and learning to be happy again, all fall by the wayside.
3. It’s tough to co-parent with your enemy. Fighting in court pits you against your spouse. It buries you in the mentality of battle. The problem is, it’s really tough to to sit next to your spouse at your kid’s parent teacher conference in the afternoon, when you’ve spent all morning being grilled by your spouse’s attorney at a deposition.
Effective co-parenting requires you to maintain at least a base level of respect for your spouse. It also requires regular communication, as well as a good deal of flexibility and cooperation.
Divorce litigation breeds contempt and mistrust. When everything you say to your spouse can be used against you, you stop talking to him/her. That lack of communication, in turn, breeds more misunderstanding and mistrust. Even if you are not fighting about the kids in court (and especially if you are) the fact that you are fighting with your spouse at all ends up damaging your ability to work together as parents.
Fighting in court hurts your kids.
Moving Past the Court Room
Fighting in court hurts you on a multitude of levels. It costs an enormous amount of money. It takes your time, and drains your energy. More than that, it hurts your kids. It also locks you in your pain and positions you to keep fighting with your ex for years to come.
Not fighting in court takes courage. You have to be strong to be able to negotiate when you’re afraid that your spouse is going to take advantage of you. You have to be able to walk the talk when you say you are going to put your kids first – especially when doing so costs you financially or emotionally.
Most of all, you have to be willing to let go. You have to let go of your need to punish your spouse, and your need to be right. It’s not easy NOT to fight. In the end, though, resolving your divorce amicably, through mediation, negotiation, or collaborative divorce, will pay benefits later on that you can’t even imagine right now.
You can’t move forward into a bright new future when you are constantly focused on a dark, ugly past.
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