Civility Matters in Divorce

I recently read an article by Carol Bailey-Medwell on Why Civility Matters.

Civility Matters in Divorce - Carol Bailey

Carol Bailey with Integrative Family Law

Carol manages Integrative Family Law, a firm that shares many of the same values we hold here at Seattle Divorce Services. Recently I had the pleasure of reading one of her articles in a member’s publication, and I thought I’d share some of her insights.

I particularly liked Carol’s point that short term revenge seeking is not a good basis for long term happiness, and may also have negative consequences for family, friends, and children when it impacts relationships that will continue in one form or another into the future.

One way to preserve civility is to use as little litigation process as possible, as litigation is by its nature adversarial, which increases conflict.

This may mean using alternative dispute resolution options like mediation or collaboration, or it may simply mean having more direct conversation before resorting to court. It can mean things as simple as asking the other party to accept service of the initial court filings rather than having the papers served on them by a process server.

Other ways of limiting the conflict rather than fanning the flames include:

  • Keeping family and friends out of it (having friends/family write declarations for one party or the other extends the conflict to a much wider circle)
  • Sticking to facts rather than spitting out accusations (and is less likely to cause the court see you as part of the problem)
  • Limiting discovery (requiring the other side to provide information) to what is really needed, as overly burdensome discovery only ticks people off, and may bring the same down on your own head!

Some other tips Carol gave for dealing with the other party include:

  • Making sure to acknowledge different perspectives and points of view
  • Not jumping to assumptions about the other party’s intentions
  • Spending the time to really listen to understand where the other person is coming from
  • Trying to align with the other party as co-problem solvers
  • Acknowledging the positive contributions of the other.

It is also important to stay aware of triggers, both your own and the other person’s. Triggers are things that set a person off, that cause an emotional reaction. Usually this is something that is perceived as being threatening, insulting, or attacking.

When a person is triggered, they have a harder time thinking straight and will tend to respond defensively rather than cooperatively. If you are triggered, you may need to ask for a break before responding, and if you recognize that the other person is triggered (despite your best efforts not to trigger them), you may also want to suggest a break, as well as taking any other steps (an apology can work wonders) to lessen the impact.

Finally, many people think they can get a person to act more cooperatively by pointing out their faults, when in fact this merely makes them more determined to defend themselves by attacking back.

When we see others as the problem, they become the problem. When we see the problem as something outside the other person, then we can work together to solve the problem.