What the Courts Can and Can’t Do For You in Family Law
Updated: Feb 13, 2018
Emotions are often running high and feelings are raw and exposed when relationships are being dissolved. Oftentimes one or both of the parties may feel that they have been treated badly and wronged in some kind of way. Maybe someone lied or cheated, maybe someone feels betrayed, maybe hurts have been tracked over a long period of time and both people have irreparably thrown arrows at each other that cannot be taken back.
It is not unusual for a party to enter into the formal legal dissolution process (or other similar court matters) with the expectation that they will be deemed the victim of the other person’s bad acts and they will leave court victoriously recognized as the “good” person and with the other person leaving in shame vilified as a horrible, no-good, very bad person.
The court’s role is to ensure that children’s issues are dealt with as well as possible and that the parties’ assets and liabilities are divided. The court is not there to make moral judgments about the black heart of one (or both of the parties). The court can’t order that one party or the other “act better” or stop being a jerk. The court, frankly, is not the place to get compensated for your feelings.
Most states have done away entirely fault grounds for a divorce and moved to a no-fault divorce model – which means that not only are you not required to prove a “reason” for your divorce (such as adultery, fraud, etc.), but that fault really doesn’t matter in the eyes of the court. The fact that you have “irreconcilable differences” is enough in and of itself for a divorce.
The limits of the court may be addressed through therapy and counseling. Part of my consultation spiel to people handling the aftereffects (or ongoing effects) of the demise of a relationship is to get a good counselor or therapist in place. People need a venue to work through their stress, angst, and anger over the end of a relationship and the challenges of settling into a “new” normal. The court system is not set up to provide that support to people, so people need to find help elsewhere.
I know that clients are often frustrated that their demands aren’t being met or the other party isn’t acting in a way that they think they should. I am sure they are also frustrated with me when I try to gently point out that they can’t “force” the other person to act in a certain way, but can really only handle their own behavior and, to a certain extent, their reactions to the other person.
The end of a relationship, especially one involving children and/or the intertwining of assets and liabilities, can involve progressing through the stages of grief. It is critical for people to be able to work through the process and to figure out how to move past the relationship and on to a healthy future.
For some people, counseling may mean finding a good friend or family member to lean on, using a spiritual advisor, or engaging in more traditional counseling. No matter who you lean on for support, it is important to keep in mind that you want to work with someone who helps you deal with your needs and move forward. Be careful working with friends or family who keep you stuck in flinging mud – that can keep the flame of anger burning bright, rather than helping you lessen the heat of the moment – which can slow your progress getting to your new happy place.