Strictly Business: The Importance of Keeping Your Emotions out of the Courtroom
Just as there are two sides to every story, there are two sides to every divorce. What most people don’t think about though is that there are two sides to divorce for each person – the legal side and the emotional side.
The legal side is the aspect of divorce that involves many important facets of life. Also known as the “business” portion of the divorce, the legal side can include the custody agreement, finances and real estate. Then there is the emotional aspect, which involves not just grieving the end of the marriage, but experiencing feelings that range from shock, confusion, anger, bitterness, sadness, resentment and hope for the future.
It is very difficult but extremely imperative that those going through a divorce keep the two sides separate. Why? Because business decisions (the legal side) should not be emotionally motivated, and every person going through a divorce has the right to grieve as much as he or she needs.
Here are some tips for keeping the legal side and the emotional side of your divorce separate:
It is important to understand the difference between what you may feel is “right” and what is permitted under the law. A prime example is couples dealing with infidelity. Illinois is a no fault state, which means that one person’s conduct has no bearing on the division of the marital estate. While you may feel that you are entitled to some sort of restitution because if a cheating spouse, the law does permit it. Often times, proceedings can get held up or stalled because while one of the parties may accept something on a rational basis, their emotions impede full acceptance. When you’re dealing with legal proceedings, you must think with your head and not your heart.
Don’t use your lawyer as your therapist. Most divorce attorneys are very well versed in how to handle the personal and emotional aspects of a divorce and many have developed their own style of how to deal with emotional clients. Some take a more stern approach while others will let you express yourself and then move on. The important thing to remember is that your lawyer is not your therapist. They have not been trained to give advice in emotional and personal matters, not to mention the vast cost disparity between a legal professional and a mental health professional.
Don’t use your support system as your legal team. A very common phrase attorneys hear is, “my friend/sister/neighbor/son/boss, etc. told me….” While having a support system is vital during divorce proceedings, these people are not your legal counsel. You must remember that matters of the mind and matters of the heart have to remain separate. Your lawyer has been highly educated and trained in their field and will advocate for you to the fullest extent of the law. Use your support system for just that – support.
Keep the kids out of it. Children are very perceptive. No matter how careful you may be in shielding them from the proceedings, they will pick up on it. Be careful what you say to your children about your divorce. Emotional outbursts can have a damaging effect or them or their relationship with your spouse and in some cases can lead to additional conflict regarding parenting time or the allocation of parental responsibilities.
Lean on friends, family, professionals. Having a support system is just as important as having a lawyer. Lean of your friends, your family or others who may know what you’re going through It may be helpful to join a support group or to see a therapist. Having support will also help you keep your feelings out of court.
It is nearly impossible to fully shield your divorce proceedings from your personal feelings. During a divorce, emotions are running wild, with resentment being at the top of the list. But the important thing to remember is that the legal side of your divorce is a business deal, and the goal should be to get the best financial and custodial arrangement for you and your children. As for the emotional side, it’s hard to imagine during a divorce, but as time goes by, the feelings you have will change, and hopefully most negative feelings will diminish. That is why (as the old adage goes), it is important to think with your brain, not your heart.
Ashley D. Wood is an associate with Katz & Stefani.