By: Devon Walke
Devon Walke is an Associate Attorney at WhitbeckBennett. He was born and raised in Oklahoma, never venturing too far from his hometown of Norman, attending the University of Oklahoma for both undergraduate studies and law school. While in law school, Devon was a member of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Inn of Court. To learn more about Mr. Walke, click here.
Supporting A Loved One Struggling With Divorce: Part Two – “What Should I Not Do?”
While the practice of family law is far too often centered around families that are falling apart (i.e., divorce, custody proceedings, etc.), it can also be an opportunity to bring them together (i.e., adoptions, guardianships, etc.). Our attorneys can skillfully guide individuals through the tricky terrain associated with any of those situations referenced above, but our work is primarily done in the courthouse and at the office. Although that legal work is an undeniably necessary component of any divorce proceeding, there is a much less recognized aspect to every divorce, which takes place at home, yet is equally as important to the individual going through these monumental moments in life. The way we support our loved ones who are going through a divorce can significantly impact their transition mentally, emotionally, and financially. Just as important as the steps you take to proactively help friends and family members going through a divorce are the things not to do.
Don’t try to involve yourself in the divorce process. From an attorney’s perspective, this is one of the biggest issues we deal with on a regular basis. While you obviously want to help friends, family members, and other loved ones, it is important that you leave the legal advice to a licensed attorney, preferably one experienced in family law. Sports fans out there have likely heard the term “Monday Morning Quarterback”. While Monday Morning Quarterbacking in the sports world is typically harmless, as we complain about the performances and second-guess the decisions of our favorite teams and players following their most recent outing, it has a very different and negative effect in the family law world.
Far too often, we see negotiated settlements go awry because there is one family member, friend, or coworker who has unsolicited advice for the soon-to-be divorcee. In an effort to come across as extra-supportive of a friend or family member, there is a tendency to rile up the individual going through a divorce by telling him or her that he or she should “stick it to” the soon-to-be ex-spouse, and how they should do the same (i.e., “they shouldn’t get to see those kids unless you say so”, “don’t give them any of that furniture, they don’t deserve it”, “you don’t have to share any of that information if you don’t want to”, “make sure you get this/that because that’s what I did”, etc.). You may not realize it, but in doing so, what you may think of as harmless chiding can have very serious consequences, detrimental to the very friend or family member you were only trying to support. By redirecting your friend or loved one’s emotional distress right back at the divorce process (rather than perhaps merely allowing them to vent to you), you are injecting unnecessary acrimony into a process that needs no additional hostility. Doing so could cause a very reasonable, advantageous, and otherwise equitable settlement for both parties to fall apart. It could drive the parties to unnecessarily incur thousands of dollars in additional fees and months of avoidable litigation. In the end, it could mean the difference in your loved one having custody of his or her child (whether sole or joint); it could mean he or she no longer keeps the residence because of the failed settlement; it could mean they find themselves paying hundreds of additional dollars in monthly alimony or child support, and thousands of dollars in additional fees than he or she otherwise would have.
Furthermore, by injecting yourself into the divorce, you may inadvertently be driving a wedge between your loved one and his or her counsel. Any divide in that fiduciary relationship can be disastrous. An individual going through a divorce must be able to trust their hired counsel implicitly, to achieve the best possible outcome for him or her, taking into account all of the various factors and circumstances unique to his or her situation. Therefore, his or her attorney is and should be (so long as that trust is present and acted upon) in a better position than anyone else to obtain the best possible outcome for your loved one.
Every single divorce is unique, just like the individuals struggling through it. There are two sides to every divorce; it is important to remember that as a friend or family member, you are likely only hearing one. Use this catastrophic event in your loved one’s life as an unexpected opportunity to make your relationship (whether it be as a friend or family member) with the divorcee stronger, instead of focusing your support on driving further apart an already-failed relationship. Rather than devote time to concocting a plan to help “swindle” a soon-to-be ex-spouse out of some money, focus that same time and energy on discussing ways in which you can help a newly single parent handle the responsibilities and logistics of raising his/her child(ren) in a divided home.
At WhitbeckBennett, you can trust that your loved one is in good hands with our attorneys – let us take care of the legal work in the office and at the courthouse, while you focus on supporting your loved ones at home. Working together, we will protect what matters most: family.