In prior blogs in this series, we wrote about the natural desire to prevail against perceived rivals and the potential use of game theory to understand obstacles in the current legal system as it takes families through separations and divorce. We next focused on how the legal system can trap people into self-defeating patterns of decision making: Trap #1 – distracting people from their life goals into thinking that legal outcomes are goals; Trap #2– treating divorce as a zero sum game; Trap #3: the system assuming disputes and seducing parents into thinking the same; Trap #4: treating children as property; Trap #5, acting as if selfishness is the best strategy; Trap #6, believing that winning is critical; and Trap #7: thinking that being angry is better than being sad; Trap #8, that a marital settlement agreement should be built deductively, rather than inductively.
Here we consider Trap #9: that a divorce is the end of a relationship. It is obvious that a divorce is not the end of a relationship when parties have children. They will interact with one another, directly and positively, directly and negatively, or indirectly and negatively for the rest of their lives. A divorce ends parts of the marriage but the parenting partnership and expenses involved in that partnership continues for the rest of the parents’ lives.
However, even in a divorce without children, the relationship continues. Sometimes it is in a very direct way, with continuing contact with one another or extended families and friends but also sometimes there is no direct contact, but the relationship remains part of the psychological life of both spouses. We are all the sum of our experiences in life, including the people who were important parts of those experiences. For example, we might still be carrying on internal conversations with a long dead grandparent, smiling at the thought of fond experiences with friends we no longer see and even still being sad that the dreams and hopes we had for our marriage failed to materialize.
When we think this way, that we are going to have a relationship with our spouse/other parent for the rest of our lives, we ought to step back and consider what kind of relationship we want to have and who we want to be in that relationship. A divorce is not “final,” it is a major life transition. Attorneys might view the final judgment of divorce as the end, because it might appear to be the end of the case, and convey this perspective to clients. This is a disservice to the client and also traps them into strategies that become self-defeating. Getting a bargain on a used car with deceit, aggressive tactics and Boulwarian bargaining can be wise because there is no lasting relationship with the salesman. Employing these strategies to a divorce can poison the relationship with harm, guilt, regret, shame and real damage to children. Rather than recalling the marriage with fond memories and sadness at the ending, what is remembered is the horrible divorce. The anger, guilt and shame fester inside and adversely affect the future. The pain can infect a perspective on relationships and even when people remarry, they are a little distrustful because they might experience the same pain again.
Attorneys can serve their clients well by keeping this trap in mind and keeping their client focused on the long-term relationship that they will have with their spouse, whether they interact with that spouse or not. Spouses, especially with children, should recognize that their divorce is simply a transition into a more limited relationship, but one that will last for the rest of their lives.