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.