It sounds trite. But feedback received after nearly 15 years as a family lawyer tells me it is true. The best revenge is living well.
As family lawyers, our first meeting with our clients often occurs when they are at an emotional low-point. If their spouse has resolved to end their relationship, they may be feeling shocked, hurt, and angry. If they are the one to have initiated the separation, they may be feeling those same emotions, and more – sadness and guilt.
Everyone experiences different emotions, and sometimes how that client is feeling changes from day to day, or even within the space of a day.
In essence, they are feeling a ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. Sometimes it is both… all in the space of 24 hours.
This is a time when they will be asked by their lawyer to begin making important decisions about how their separation will proceed. In reality, however, it is the worst possible time to be making any decisions. If how they are feeling is variable, so too will be their decision making.
The problem is, however, that decisions made at that point set the case upon a particular pathway.
When clients are angry, they may express a wish to ‘go to Court’, perceiving that such a process will be to render retribution on their spouse, to make them ‘pay’, and to have their conduct exposed. Sometimes it can feel like that is what needs to occur for there to be ‘justice’.
Their decision is therefore, at a time when they are feeling most pain, the one designed to see their spouse endure that same pain.
However, for many clients, that initial anger subsides with the passing of weeks and months. With counselling, and time, they may have a totally different view of the separation with the benefit of 6 months’ hindsight.
How that client feels on day one of their separation will therefore likely differ dramatically to their feelings six months in. The ‘revenge’ which might have seemed so important earlier on has been a mirage. They may have realised that any vindication achieved in Court is short-lived, and instead be focussed on moving on with their own life.
The trouble is, the ‘egg’ is already ‘scrambled’. A pathway of destruction chosen earlier can be difficult to turn back from. That pathway has involved their spouse, who is likely now also angry, and seeking their own form of ‘payback’.
Had that client been allowed to pause, things might have been different. Perhaps there could have been a settlement through mediation. Perhaps the parties could have looked into a collaborative divorce. Perhaps a direct discussion between spouses may have seen an outcome reached, at least in part.
Instead, those opportunities have likely been obliterated by a decision made at a time when the client was just not ready.
Of course, there will be times when there is no choice but to commence proceedings – when there is the risk of assets being disposed of, when a spouse has been ‘cut off’ financially. There are, however, plenty of cases where there is time to allow the dust to settle, and for the client to experience the roller coaster of emotions before being asked to give instructions as to the future direction of their case.
Sometimes, therefore, the most important thing we can give our client to do is to ‘do nothing’.
If you are reading this blog, are enduring separation, and are feeling that unsettling ‘fight or flight’ sensation, talk to your lawyer about whether you can pause without jeopardising your situation. If ‘yes’, use that time to arm yourself with information about the relevant factors in your case, and the various options open to you to achieve an outcome.
Meanwhile, get help in coping with the separation, and the other non-legal issues, from other sources (referred by your lawyer). Your lawyer can still be doing plenty of legwork in that period, so that time is not ‘lost’.
Having had this time, you will be able to be sure that you are truly at peace with the instructions you are providing to your lawyer, rather than regretting a decision made when you were in no position to be making decisions.
In short, you will have given yourself a chance to see whether the best revenge is indeed getting on and living a full life.