Part 3: How to get, gain, assume and maintain control of your divorce

The following is the third installment in the four-part series that discusses how to get, gain, assume and maintain control of your divorce. The first segment covered "getting" control while the second focuses on "gaining" control. In this third increment, "assuming" control is the topic at hand.

By Stacy D. Phillips
Updated: September 04, 2014
Family Lawyers


In the first two parts of this series on divorce and control, I covered how to "get" control (the act of "coming into possession of; obtaining; or going for and bringing back," according to Webster); and also how to "gain" control (the act of—Webster again—"to outdo the competition"). In this segment, I will address the art of "assuming" control. As in previous increments, I will offer a list of questions so that you can determine where you rank in the "assume-control" department and whether this is an area that you need to work on relative to your divorce.

Oddly enough, in order to get and gain control you must assume control, that is psych yourself into believing that you are confidently at the helm no matter how many bullets are being fired at you in the Divorce Wars (Emotional, Psychological and Legal—and in some cases, the Internal wars, the ones you wage against yourself, like too much drinking, eating, shopping…). Reverting once again to Webster, and one of the definitions in his dictionary, to "assume" is "to arrogate (claim) to oneself; to usurp (take over)."

Assuming control may have different relevance and meaning to you altogether. Sometimes assuming control can mean projecting a demeanor that says I mean business and you can’t rattle my cage; but it can also mean taking over when the situation or circumstance around you gets out of control. Such situations can span the gamut from your ex telling you off in front of the children, to your friends or in-laws attempting to meddle in the affairs of your messy divorce (like when you drop the children off for a holiday function).

If your significant other is behaving badly, if your children are unruly, if family members are asserting themselves in matters that are none of their business, someone has to step up and take the reins.

If you are continually exposed to contentious circumstances as a result of becoming embroiled in an Emotional, Psychological or Legal War, it may be time for you to be the "bigger" and the "stronger" person; it may be time for you to assume control.

The ability to assume control is a real art, I think. When anyone is under pressure, as most divorcees are, and when a person is suffering emotionally, it takes great resolve to commit to assuming control; the operative word: "commit." I often say that people are at their worst when going through a divorce and when one’s behavior is less than his/her best, conducting him or herself with dignity and poise is critical. In order to keep your cool, "claiming" control of the situation at hand is critical.

Here are a handful of questions to determine if you currently come across as someone who is confident and composed when it comes time to impress others that you are deftly in control:

  • Do you appear submissive, downtrodden, nervous or uncomfortable in mediation sessions, settlement conferences, or before the judge?
  • When you encounter your ex in any of the above settings, do you suddenly lose your composure?
  • In the company of others, when someone brings up something your ex has said or done, do you begin to display body language or attitude changes that make you appear less than collected?
  • If you are feeling ruffled in the presence of your ex, his family, his friends, your children or others, are you still able to display a serene countenance?

If you answered no to the first three questions, and yes to the question four, I will assume that you are coming across as convincing in the assuming control department. Yes to any of the first three questions, and no to question four, is a dead giveaway that you are in dire need of assuming control.

Here is another set of questions to test how confident you are in taking the helm when everyone else and everything around you is losing control.

  • When there is a sudden calamity, e.g., someone loses his/her temper, the children throw a fit, your former mother-in-law threatens you, or you are served with court papers, do you handle the situation calmly and smoothly?
  • When your ex embarrasses you in front of the children, your new significant other or his/her new girlfriend or spouse, do you roll with the punches and keep the peace?
  • Though your ex has attempted to keep the war going (whichever type it is), do you step up and do what needs to be done, sensibly and rationally?

If you answered yes to all of the above, it is apparent that you are the one who is assuming control despite the temptation to get caught up in the chaos that typically surrounds any one of the events inherent in one of the Three Wars. If not, and you answered no, you probably know you have work to do. The goal to assuming control is consistently taking over and handling a situation appropriately and with calm no matter how unexpected, stressful or uncomfortable.

Though many of my clients are feeling delicate and fragile (and you may be, too), they can come across as strong and confident in the presence of others, if they are focused on putting forth a demeanor that demonstrates that front. There is much to be said for the dynamics between people who are going through the divorce process and the impressions they make and leave with others. Very often the one who comes across as relaxed, poised and confident is the party that looks good in the eyes of the judge. I have seen many soon-to-be-divorcees lose it in the courtroom! There have been those who blurt things out (things better left unsaid) for instance, those who cower at the sight of their ex (or the judge), and those who wear their emotions on their sleeve.

I am not suggesting that you be phony; that you become someone other than who you really are—I am just pointing out that your fate can de decided by how you come across in the courtroom, during mediation, in four-way conferences, or in the presence of your ex. So if you make the assumption you are in control, you will most likely appear to be in control. Such a supposition can very well grow on you.

I have had many clients who have had to bear the brunt of taking over when they certainly did not feel like it. Some clients were so wrapped up in the aggravation and trauma of the divorce that all they wanted was to wallow in their misery—have someone take over for them. But many times that is a luxury one does not get!

Simply know that if your opponent thinks he or she has the upper hand because your demeanor makes you look vulnerable, or the judge perceives you as uncontrollable, and opposing counsel sees you as weak, such perception may work against you. If you have not assumed control, it is now time to do so.

Read the other articles in this series:

Stacy D. Phillips is a co-founder of Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation, which specializes in high-profile family law matters. She is co-chair of the Women's Political Committee and a member of Divorce Magazine's North American Advisory Board. She can be reached at (310) 277-7117. View her firm's Divorce Magazine profile here.

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July 29, 2008
Categories:  Family Lawyers

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