Self Management in Divorce

One of the most challenging aspects of family law cases is managing our clients' emotions during the course of their dissolution. Whether the issue is child custody, child support, spousal support, property division or all of these things at once, it's perfectly natural to have surges of strong emotions when these important life issues feel jeopardized. Family law is a unique area of the law in that it deals with everyday people in everyday situations fighting for the most important things in their lives: their children, their homes, their retirement accounts, their money and their sense of security.

A recent article in the State Bar of California, Family Law News publication touched on this aspect of family law and provided some useful tips on how individuals can better "self manage" their emotions during their dissolution proceedings.

According to scientific studies, we primarily use the left side of our brain, however in stressful or crisis situations, our right brain kicks in and plays a larger role. The right brain controls most of our "defensive responses" needed in crisis, survival situations. In a divorce situation where one may feel threatened to the point that the right brain thinking kicks in, it becomes difficult to make reasoned, rational decisions. In true survival situations, there may not be time to think carefully through all one's options and "all or nothing"/"fight or flight" thinking has a biological purpose. In a divorce situation though, this does not hold true, even though right brain thinking may have crippled one's ability to make reasoned decisions.

So what can you do to prevent unproductive, "all or nothing" thinking when trying to navigate divorce? The Family Code provides that the court can order one or both parties to counseling in high-conflict custody proceedings. Your attorney may be a good listener, but the reality is he or she is not your therapist and you'd be much better served by enlisting the help of a good counselor or co-parenting coach either at the direction of the court or voluntarily. The therapist can provide training and tools for you to use to shift your thinking toward being proactive and productive instead of obstructionist.

In certain cases where one or both parties may have borderline personality disorders that make co-parenting particularly difficult, it's important to keep communication tailored to positive encouragement as opposed to constant criticism. For particularly fragile parties, criticism may be too much to bear and any forward progress could be wiped out by the shadow of criticism. Likewise, if a party has little or no insight into his/her behavior arguing with them will not be productive. That party really needs decision making skills in order to adjust his/her behavior in a meaningful way.

There's no arguing that divorce can be and often is a grueling, emotionally turbulent process. Some people may handle the process more in stride than others, but most parties would benefit from counseling or therapy during the process to assist in learning decision making and co-parenting skills that may ultimately reduce the stress and strain of litigation and provide useful tools to manage their lives and families in the years to come after the divorce has been finalized.

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