Judith Holzman, a family lawyer in Toronto, answers:
Annie Lennox wrote a beautiful song some years ago called ‘Put a Little Love in Your Heart,’ and the lyrics are as follows:
“Think of your fellow man, lend him a helping hand, put a little love in your heart, you see it’s getting late, oh please don’t hesitate, put a little love in your heart and the world will be a better place…”
The words of this song apply very much to couples who are divorcing, because a little kindness, a little sensitivity and a little respect go a long way in a divorce. Collaborative Family Law is based on respect for your spouse and for the process. Bringing integrity, appropriate disclosure and correct behavior to the divorce process is essential.
Too many couples turn a divorce into “The War of the Roses” and, just as in the film, they destroy themselves and their families in an attempt to wreak havoc on the other side. A little bit of treating of the other side as you would want to be treated goes a long way. At one point in time, you loved this person and supposedly they loved you. Being respectful can be very difficult, especially if you feel wronged, but a little goes a long way towards resolving the issues.
It is not as if in Family Law there is not bad behavior. Often there is a parent that turns children against the other parent, tries to lie and hide family assets or refuses to support the family, particularly their spouses and children.
But if everyone would treat their ex-spouse with a little respect, take a step back from the anger and disappointment and act in a reasonable fashion, it would probably end up taking much of the work away from the Family Courts, and it would certainly cut back on the workloads of Family Law lawyers like me.
When a couple is willing to act in a respectful fashion, to sit down with all of the disclosure on the table perhaps with the intercession of a family mental health professional (to assist the parties through the anger and the grief) and to guide their actions in a courteous manner instead of hiding assets, deleting the other spouse from the healthcare plan, or withdrawing all the money from the bank accounts, they save themselves a fortune in expenses and end up, through principled negotiations, with an appropriate resolution to their case while maximizing their family assets.
The concept that in a divorce you can “get the other side”, simply doesn’t work as the Courts do not allow for this type of inappropriate behavior and, while the process is cumbersome for the enforcement of Court Orders, it will eventually happen.
A war of attrition is enormously costly to both parties and, eventually, the Courts will stop and prevent that kind of behavior. Regardless, the emotional impact on the families is enormous and the psychological damage can last many years.
So, my advice as a divorce lawyer of 35 years is to exercise a little common sense, to keep your behavior appropriate and, if at all possible, to negotiate collaboratively to find a just and appropriate resolution in the areas of disagreement.