On the last track, we discussed The Language of Divorce. This included Victim and Survivor, Old vs. New Language and Co-parenting Language.
Think of a client of yours in the midst of a divorce who wants to use the children as angry bargaining chips. How do you respond?
On this track, we will discuss Setting Priorities in Divorce Disputes. This will include discerning what is right and wrong, acting on what you have discerned and saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong. As you listen, think of the choices you give your client. How does it compare with the techniques presented on this track?
Jonathan, age 35, was in the process of divorcing his wife. He stated, "I don’t know how I’m going to find the willpower to be civil with her after what she did to me. She ran off with my goddamn best friend! And the kids…I have two kids, ages 8 and 2…and we’re going to have to come up with some kind of plan about who gets them on weekends and whenever else…she’s got the kids right now, of course…you know, I’m tempted to completely withhold child support just to get back at the bitch! But then I think of my kids…and of course I can’t do that to them. What do I do to make her pay?"
What might you have said? I stated, "There are three steps that can help you figure out what you feel is right and just, as opposed to what you are legally entitled to do, obligated to do or want to do. These three steps include figuring out what is right and wrong, acting on what you have figured out, and saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong."
Setting Priorities in Divorce Disputes - 3 Considerations
#1 Discerning What is Right and Wrong
Regarding figuring out what is right and wrong, I stated, "First, let’s discuss discerning or figuring out what is right and wrong. This step requires a degree of reflection, a rising above what you might think or feel you want. It requires really thinking and following your heart. Withholding support payments to get back at your children’s mother for leaving you for your best friend might be what you feel like doing. Is that what you feel is right?" Jonathan stated, "Of course not. I’m going to send the check…it’s just…it’s very difficult trying to separate what feels like an entitlement or a right for me to make my ex miserable, from what’s the correct thing to do. It feels kind of like turning the other cheek!"
#2 Acting on What You Have Discerned
In addition to figuring out what is right and wrong, I stated, "The second step is acting on what you have figured out, even though your actions are at a personal cost to you. Acting on what you believe is right involves making and keeping commitments. Continuing your monetary contributions even if your children were to become stubborn, mouthy teens probably won’t feel good, but it is a commitment you made when you decided to have children. When you made that decision, you made the decision to provide for them." Jonathan stated, "Hah, if they’re anything like I used to be, that’s not even going to be the half of it! But keeping that commitment to my children is the right thing to do… I guess!"
#3 Saying Openly that You are... Acting on Your Understanding of Right and Wrong
I stated, "Third, let’s discuss saying openly to your ex-wife that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong. Jonathan, this step is a reminder that people of integrity are unashamed about doing what it is that they have figured out is the right thing to do. You might have to endure harassing comments from your friends and, if you get a new spouse, from her, about how foolish you are to send the money supporting your kids. Despite this harassment, you do not have to make an attempt to sneak your child support checks past anyone who might deride you for what they would term foolishness."
Jonathan stated, "But these ideas aren’t very clear-cut. These are just how to justify sending child support." I stated, "You’re right. They aren’t clear-cut. But they do provide a formula for you, even with your anger and hurt, to work with integrity to resolve the complex issues facing you and your children in divorce." Jonathan asked, "What are my legal options?" I stated, "You have 3 legal tools, including mediation, arbitration and litigation. It is possible that you will need all three of these options as you sort out your different personal, material and financial arrangements."
Jonathan asked, "How will I know which option to use when?" I stated, "You will first need to separate the major decisions about your kids from decisions that need to be made regarding money and property. You might want to attend to your children’s issues first, and let these issues be the overriding factor in any decision you make regarding money and property."
Jonathan stated, "In the heat of battle…let me tell you…it’s so easy to want to settle the other stuff first…the property and money stuff…and then use the kids like bargaining chips, because I know she loves them too…but then I think about how that would feel if someone did that to me…and I know it would be excruciating." I stated, "Once the priority is set, you will need to define personal and material issues and discern how they relate to one another. Equal time in both your houses might be more important for your 8-year-old, while a stable home and consistent caregiver for your toddler might override the desire both you and your future ex-wife have to spend equal time with your youngest."
Jonathan stated, "God, this feels like a game. We both want to win the kids!" I stated, "This might be a good time to try and let go of the need to ‘win’ on principles and work toward what is in the best interest of the kids. Compromises and negotiations can become a way of life for all of you."
Do you have a Jonathan who wants to get even with his or her ex at the expense of their children? Might he or she benefit from hearing this track?
On this track, we discussed Setting Priorities in Divorce Disputes. This included discerning what is right and wrong, acting on what you have discerned and saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Holtzworth-Munroe, A., Beck, C. J., Applegate, A. G., Adams, J. M., Rossi, F. S., Jiang, L. J., Tomlinson, C. S., & Hale, D. F. (2020). Intimate partner violence (IPV) and family dispute resolution: A randomized controlled trial comparing shuttle mediation, videoconferencing mediation, and litigation. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Advance online publication.
Lebow, J. (2003). Integrative family therapy for disputes involving child custody and visitation. Journal of Family Psychology, 17(2), 181–192.
Siddiqui, A., & Ross, H. (2004). Mediation as a Method of Parent Intervention in Children's Disputes. Journal of Family Psychology, 18(1), 147–159.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 6
What are three ways to decide priorities in divorce disputes? To select and enter your answer go to .