Everyone Please Play Nice

I was at a seminar this weekend about the all of the new cases that were decided in 2015. The moderator of the seminar made a joke about the theme of 2015 for the Court of Appeal in California. That theme was “play nice.” Now to be clear, the moderator was joking, but there were several cases that came down in 2015 where the Court of Appeal appeared to have based their decisions on how the parties (and their attorneys) conducted themselves during the litigation. Without going into detail, suffice it to say bad behavior was not rewarded in 2015.

Divorces are an emotional and trying time no matter what the circumstances. Moreover, the ranges of emotions are just as varied as the reasons for the divorce. One of the most difficult emotions to address is anger. This anger can be a result of any number of reasons. It can be abuse (mental or physical), money, infidelity, children, control, lying, fraud… I could really go on for the rest of this blog about all the reasons a person could be angry during a divorce.

While anger is a normal, and in most cases understandable, emotion during a divorce, it is also one of the most expensive emotions. You see anger breeds a desire for revenge or satisfaction. I have had clients tell me they want the other party to suffer. (One actual quote was “I want you to bloody her up a little.”) In that particular case, my client spent several thousand dollars fighting over an issue worth less than $1,500. Oh, and at the end of that case he ultimately conceded the other side was correct. To be clear “bloodying” up the other side is not my style, and it should not be your style either.

The first reason for this is a simple logistics. The family court is not in the revenge business and is not set up to punish the parties. The reason for this lies in the fundamental purpose of the family court as a court of equity. What that means in this context is nothing is a zero sum game. There are no winners and losers. While you may not get everything you want, it does not mean you get nothing (unless you are entitled to nothing in the first place).

The second reason is revenge in a family law context will never be as satisfying as you hope it will be. Confucius once said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” In that same vein Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” The theme is the same. Revenge, while temporarily satisfying, leads to the downfall of both sides. Moreover the only winners in “scorched earth” litigation are the attorneys involved.

And it only gets worse. You and your spouse have a finite amount of assets and income to litigate your case. There are an infinite amount of legal strategies, theories or motions an attorney can file. That disconnect can lead to parties spending a majority of the assets they spent a lifetime accumulating litigating their divorce. The irony is you are spending the money you are fighting over. I hope the problem with that last line is clear.

To put that in perspective I will leave you with a quote a mentor of mine used to tell clients. “How you behave during your divorce will decide whether you put your children through Harvard or my children through Harvard.”

Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.


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