Emotion in California Divorces

by Matthew Bromund

Principal Attorney
February 28th, 2014

divorce helper upset coupleOne of the great challenges in guiding clients through divorce is the issue of emotional conflict.  The law is great at handling the logical issues involved in resolving disputes; we have spent hundreds of years codifying and regularizing the process and paperwork of making apparent what needs to be addressed.  Unfortunately, marriage is an intimate relationship and the issues involved in resolving a dispute in a marriage are rarely logical.  Instead, those issues are almost always emotional and the law is horrible at handling emotional issues.  In fact, the law makes no allowance at all for the emotional side of a divorce, which is unfortunate since often the logical issues in a divorce can be resolved by applying two very simple rules, that no one needs a lawyer to identify (the link is to the California court’s guidance on this):

1) Take what you have, owe, and have earned a right to own and divide it in half; each of you keeps one of those two shares. 

2) Arrange your children’s lives in their best interests. 

The emotional issues in a divorce are not addressed at all by these hundreds of years of refinement, contemplation and legal evolution. In fact, our forebears had a legal system much more attuned to the emotional issues in earlier ages, what with ‘fault-based divorce’, punitive alimony and intensely adversarial litigation designed to make one party feel shame for the breaking of the marriage.  Of course, these procedures caused immense discomfort, both for lawyers and participants, and have been revised and distilled to take the emotional pain out of the courtroom.

Even worse, lawyers have been systematically taught to ignore emotion and leave that out of their analysis of a case.  We aren’t trained in these issues and thus we enter private practice most often underprepared to guide our clients.  This information is offered to guide anyone looking to hire an attorney to assist in a divorce to know what to look for in hiring an attorney.  Given that the logical issues in a divorce are straightforward, if the issues in your divorce are solely logical, you need not worry about hiring a lawyer who is sensitive to the emotional side of your case.  In fact, if the financial situation of your marriage is transparent (meaning everyone already knows what you have, what you owe and where it is) you may not even need a lawyer at all. On the other hand, if you need emotional guidance as well, consider hiring a lawyer like one at the Bromund Law Group; a lawyer who is sensitive to the emotional side of your case.

To assist our clients in this sphere, we focus on our client’s interests, and not just their positions.  What’s the difference between an interest and a position?

Your interests are those values and substantive elements of your life that are necessary to make your pursuit of happiness possible.  Your positions are those objectives that you perceive to be at stake in the current transaction.

  • In buying a car, for example, your interest is in obtaining safe transportation for a cost you can bear that satisfies your personal sense of style and makes a statement about who you want to be seen to be.
  • Your position might be that a Toyota Prius is the right car for you, provided it has less than 5,000 miles and costs less than $30,000.

In a divorce, your positions likely appear to be in conflict with your soon-to-be-ex.  You have to cut your wealth in half and find a way to get as much time as possible with your kids, minimizing your debts and maximizing your ability to take long-term security out of the end of your relationship.  Since anything you receive comes out of the limited pool of wealth that goes to your ex, the conflict in a divorce is hard-wired into the process.  Even worse, no one enters a marriage with an eye towards it ending; the end of the relationship ALWAYS involves some sort of betrayal of trust or breach of expectations.  These positions come with strong emotions and those emotions can blind a person to the existence of interests underneath these positions. 

Your interests, on the other hand, may frequently have overlaps with those of your soon-to-be-ex.  You both likely want to see the wealth consumed by the divorce process minimized.  You both likely want your children to come out of the process happy and free of emotional injury.  You both likely want to avoid losing valuable work time to court hearings.  Finally, you both want to see this process end without increasing your negative feelings toward one another.

The Bromund Law Group focuses on your interests, using that focus to guide you into possible agreements that maximize your ability to achieve those interests.  We listen actively and pay close attention to your experience with your spouse because that will allow us to recognize what interests your spouse appreciates.  After all, while everyone has the interests we described above, not everyone can see that these interests are more important than their positions, especially when the issue of emotional injury is foremost in someone’s perception.

How does this work?

Example:  You have decided to seek a divorce because your spouse won’t give up lying to you about his affairs outside of the marriage.  His infidelity have cost your family thousands of dollars, putting a huge financial strain on your family, and put you in a position of shame and danger since his behavior has become notorious in your community.

Positions:  (You)Anger due to his betrayal requiring that he be shamed, to punish him for your shaming and Penalties sufficient to make you feel financially safe secure; (Him) Embarassment resulting in anger towards you, Fear about losing access to his children and the respect they have offered him inside his family; (Both) Fear about the court process and the control over their family life they are about to lose to strangers in court.

Interests:  Division of assets and obligations that maximizes your abilities to live life independently; a relationship with your children that maintains the role of parent/child; emotional support to sustain you through the divorce.

Our approach?  We would give you a safe place to vent your upset over his conduct and, in due time, make clear to you what you need to realize that the court process will not give you.  We would then move into a negotiation process that would give you a safe space to build a life of self-sufficiency (sometimes involving obtaining court orders on support, possession of assets, and child custody) and insure a parenting dialogue that leaves your relationship issues to the side (parenting is a paramount value that cannot be addressed at the same time as the relationship damage).  Finally, if at all possible, we would set up a safe space for emotional healing be it either together or apart.  The court doesn’t carry any of this load so our ability to make this happen depends entirely on the willingness of you both to engage in the process; if he doesn’t want to jump in, then we will simply ensure you don’t go forward expecting him to change.

Our role is to advance your interests and not just your positions.  There are lawyers who will focus on your positions, and if what you want more than anything else is to inflict pain on your ex, we will recommend them to you.  Our focus is to make you capable of pursuing happiness and that doesn’t come through inflicting unnecessary pain.

If this approach appeals to you, feel free to call us or recommend your friends to us.  Our initial consultation is always free and, whenever possible, we charge a flat fee for our services.  Please call 805.650.1100 to begin your process today.

Matthew Bromund of Bromund Law Group

Matthew Bromund
Principal Attorney

This article contains information and opinions of a general nature and is not intended to provide legal advice for your specific situation.  If you currently have a matter pending, feel free to contact a competent legal professional to obtain advice specific to your needs.  The Bromund Law Group has attorneys licensed in the state of California but nothing in this article creates an attorney-client relationship with any person who reads this article or comments upon it.