Civility and Divorce - a Primer

OK, so life didn't work out as planned, you're getting a divorce (or if unmarried, you are splitting up a household), and you are feeling  enthusiasm over the fact that you are no longer going to have to live with your significant other as a lover.

You might not even want to be friends, nor do you want your family and friends to be friendly with this thing that you lived with.

With all of these swirling emotions - disdain, distrust, loss, anger, confusion,hatred and apathy - there are still important issues to resolve and decisions to make with regard to property and debt. If the marriage was longer, there are decisions to make regarding maintenance and division of retirement accounts. If children were born of the marriage or civil union, there are issues of support and custody that will require long term commitments and frequent contact; even if the children are emancipated by age, there will be a lifetime of interactions at graduations, weddings, baptisms and funerals until one of you departs from this spinning rock.

With the thought of all of the future personal interactions in mind, it becomes incumbent on lawyer and litigant alike to keep things civil and businesslike to the greatest extent possible, so as to diminish potential future conflict points. This applies to behavior within the divorce proper, as well as post-decree issues. Thankfully, Kentucky is a no-fault state, so many of the sort of emotionally charged allegations that could poison future interactions after divorce never get introduced in court. As a result, it is possible to conduct family litigation without the sort of personal destruction that would make future interaction between the parties a miserable experience with reminders of past bitter accusations made in public.

I stumbled across a helpful list in the body of an article, find it relevant to this issue and think it worthy of sharing:

7 Ways to Keep Your Divorce Civil

1. Take care of your health during this process because the stress of divorce takes a toll on the body.

2. Get help with your emotions instead of taking them out on your soon-to-be-ex.

3. Remember that divorce is a transition, not a way of life.

4. Get regular support from a trusted friend, family member, or professional.

5. Consult with a lawyer, mediator or other professional as needed to ensure your financial security.

6. Educate yourself about divorce and the process through the use of books, websites, or advisers.

7. Avoid making any sudden or hasty decisions about your life, finances, or family.

Many of these items should be intuitive, sadly, in the emotional maelstrom of a breakup, people forget common sense and needlessly complicate their lives. They might forget to eat properly, they may drink to excess. They may become defensive about nonsensical complaints. They may even become destructive to the point of wrecking property or giving away pets. While it is difficult to always act responsibly in the course of a breakup, frequent reference to resources such as this list can help a litigant avoid obvious pitfalls.

An overarching principal for litigation behavior that I've distilled down to a single sentence (and propose to add as an eighth entry to the list) is this:

8. When it comes to dealing with your former significant other, demonstrate at least the same common courtesy that you would to any business acquaintance.

I add this not out of any stilted system of honor or phony politeness; I add it for the purpose of facilitating a reasonable working relationship for the period post-litigation, when you will have routine interactions without the intervention of a court. At a minimum, you will want to be able to sensibly communicate basic facts about issues in which you still share a common interest, whether it be a house payment, transport issues on the exchange of a child or to report a collection call on a debt that you thought the other party was addressing. When deciding what to communicate, always consider whether this would be information which has an effect on the life of the other party - if it will affect them, then you should share the relevant facts out of a sense of common courtesy. By doing so, you will save time, legal expense and upheaval both in the near and long term.

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