Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Big Picture


Divorce and other family law issues really are tightly connected to emotions. They are obviously very personal and usually involve some hurt feelings. People do go through stages of grief when a relationship ends, and that makes it tough for a while for most people to operate effectively. Some people, however, have anger issues that make it almost impossible for them to function rationally in some situations. The anger may be triggered by financial consequences of their situation, or by perceived slights or the loss of relationships. Others are upset because of new responsibilities they must assume, or by their loss of assets they worked hard for, or maybe just by change itself.

Whatever the cause, it is often difficult to deal with family law issues on a rational basis. Because of anger or other emotional issues, people have trouble dealing with the big picture and often end up focusing on small details. Some people keep score, tracking their wins and losses as if every action were equal to every other action.

Even though many people do not understand this, family law cases are not competitions. It is possible for both parties to win or to lose in a divorce. If you add in children, both parents and the children can all win or lose. It is not necessarily a situation where there must be one winner and one loser. If you operate on a minute level and agonize over how to split the pots and pans, then you can have a "winner" and a "loser" regarding who ends up with the 6-inch sauce pan. On the other hand, if there is a focus on providing two homes with some pots and pans, keeping in mind that they are replaceable, it is possible for both sides to have an adequate set to start.

On an often more emotional issue, paying child support, how the parents approach the issue makes a huge difference with satisfaction in the outcome. If they have a common goal of providing adequate support from both parents to keep the child's standard of living as similar as possible to the pre-divorce standard, the parents can probably make an agreement that's satisfying or acceptable to both sides.

Some people start keeping score and believe that their case is a disaster if some rulings by a judge go against them. Some people will start to see a trend when two or three small issues don't go their way. Rational people know that they will win some and lose some, and that not all issues are as important as others.

The Lessons

1. You can waste a lot of money focusing on the small things.
If you insist that your attorney fight over every small thing, it will be expensive. It's easy for an attorney to stay busy preparing letters and pleadings, making phone calls, and negotiating over pots and pans or small sums of money. (It's not fun for the attorneys, but it's easy.) In reality, you are better off financially putting your time and money into achieving your higher level objectives, such as getting an adequate share of the retirement assets, providing funds to pay for your child's college expenses or getting the house sold so each party can purchase their own home, for examples.

2. Fighting over the small stuff unnecessarily increases your stress level. Stress isn't good for you, but many people ignore that and plunge right into battles over minutiae. It's not worth damaging your health over small issues. It's easy to get lost in a jungle of small, but intertwined, issues, and you can easily get stressed out, if you're not careful.

3. If your attorney tells you to focus on the big picture, that's good advice. Your attorney is more objective than you and is in a better position to judge whether you have gotten bogged down in the less important issues. It's easy to get distracted and get off course, so pay attention to your attorney. If you have a vague feeling that things aren't going your way and you aren't "winning" enough, please talk to your attorney about it. Your attorney should be able to help you keep things in perspective.

You know the old saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees. There is a lot of truth to that. It can be costly and stressful if you get off track and don't focus on the big issues. You're a lot better off financially and health-wise if you look at the big picture instead of letting yourself be distracted by smaller issues.


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