Simon Mediation - Dan Simon, M.A., J.D.


Dan Simon, M.A., J.D.

Why are divorce lawyers so damaging?

Divorce lawyers are generally decent people who believe they’re being helpful. And some divorcing people find it helpful to consult with a lawyer.

But most often, engaging a divorce lawyer turns a good divorce bad or turns a bad divorce worse. Despite lawyers’ good intentions, they are limited by a system that increases defensiveness, fear and hostility and decreases the quality of communication. Within the legal framework, there is justification for behaving deceptively and manipulatively toward your spouse. And when your spouse responds that way, it’s natural for you to continue to lose trust and for the conflict to escalate. The legal system imagines that people are utterly separate and that each person’s rights are what matter, but in the real world, we’re all connected, especially to our spouses. Generally if a divorce goes badly for one spouse, it also goes badly for the other spouse; and generally if it goes well for one spouse it goes well for the other spouse. In order for it to go well, the spouses need to, if only a little bit, work with each other. It is possible to work with each other even through intense disagreements, distrust and hard feelings. Even if you already feel your spouse can’t be trusted and fear that s/he will try to take advantage of you in the divorce process, those dynamics tend to get even worse when lawyers take over. On the other hand, if you get skilled support for working together, you can ensure that you take good care of your kids and yourself and you can even improve the way you and your ex deal with each other.

Many people only discover how damaging lawyers can be after they’ve spent 10’s of thousands of dollars. At that point, not only has that money been wasted, but the mutual distrust has gotten worse. It’s better to skip that lawyering phase. I’ve worked with many couples who, only after years of litigation, realize that they need to step up and deal directly with each other. Some of these couples have spent over a million dollars in legal fees.

It’s tempting, when you’re feeling overwhelmed and when you’re going through a new experience for the first time, to hire a lawyer who acts as if they’re very comfortable with the process, can guide you through it, and can get you a favorable result. The part that lawyers often neglect to explain is that divorce can be very simple: You need to figure out a plan for your kids, you need to decide what ongoing financial support plan, if any, you’ll have, and you need to divide up your assets and debts. Even if you and your spouse disagree about how to do these things, the healthiest and most efficient way to deal with those differences is by having a skillfully-supported conversation. It’s really not complicated. And it’s rarely helpful to turn these conversations into a legal problem. If you are curious about what the law says about these things, those answers are very Google-able. You can even do the final paperwork yourself or hire an inexpensive paralegal.