When people who have separated first see a family lawyer, they are, understandably, experiencing the full gamut of emotions – shock, despair, anger. How they feel can change from hour to hour, and day to day.
As their case progresses, their feelings can become more fixed. Some feel an acceptance, and simply want to move on. But others are not able to get that sense of closure, and are kept, trapped, in negative headspace.
Usually, that is because of ‘history’ – the actions of their spouse, and the utter outrage that is felt as a result of those actions.
Perhaps the separation was very public, or involved the betrayal of a third party being involved. Maybe it is the post-separation behaviour that is found offensive – hurtful Facebook posts; cutting off of financial support; or the dumping of belongings on the front lawn.
Whatever the case, it puts one party in a position where they want retribution – they want their spouse’s behaviour to be exposed, and for them to be publicly brought to account for all that they have done.
For that spouse, their sense of ‘justice’ has become tied up in their spouse’s behaviour being assessed, and their being told by a Judge how poorly they have behaved. They have in mind that their former partner will be required to endure the humiliation of having a Judge tell them that having an affair with a co-worker is a disgrace, and that they ought to be properly ashamed of themselves. In short, they want revenge.
To quote Brenda (played by Bette Midler) in the movie, First Wives Club, “I want him dumped…. On the six o’clock news. In front of the entire Western hemisphere. And after that, of course I want World Peace”.
That’s entirely understandable, because we are all human, and we all want to be vindicated when it comes to dishing out fault for the end of a relationship.
Unbeknown to the spouse seeking out revenge, however, the examination of that behaviour more commonly than not falls outside the task of a judge when deciding how to divide relationship property, or what is to occur in relation to the parenting of children.
Indeed, in many cases, to put on evidence of those things is objectionable, and will be disallowed by a Judge, because it is entirely irrelevant to the task facing that Judge – how to divide the equity in a family home, or deciding how children will spend school holidays with their parents.
Chances are, the behaviour which has followed a break-up, no matter how appalling, is totally irrelevant to the case.
Why? Because our law does not always take into account whether a person is ‘good’ or not, and whether they have ‘done the right thing’ after separation. Instead, dividing relationship property takes into account defined factors, such as how that property was acquired, conserved and improved, and who made those contributions during the relationship. And because when deciding on future parenting arrangements, a Judge’s task is to assess the best interests of a child, and the behaviour of a spouse, however socially reprehensible, will not be enough to terminate a parent-child relationship.
The difficulty is, most people do not know this. They are proceeding on the basis that, if they proceed to a trial, their spouse will have an inevitable day of reckoning, when their ‘behaving badly’ will be adjudged for the world to see.
For that spouse, their headspace has probably affected how they have made important decisions, including whether to resolve their case or not. That spouse may have even allowed a reasonable and achievable settlement to pass them by, on the false hope that a trial would be judgment day for their spouse, and that this public trial of their spouse’s conduct will give them the closure they seek.
That spouse has, however, likely proceeded under false hope. The judgment they hope for will never occur. They will have endured all the way to a trial, and feel even more frustrated that the shellacking they thought their spouse would receive did not occur.
That is a missed opportunity – an opportunity to save time and money by resolving the case earlier, and an opportunity to commence emotional healing earlier by getting help from experts who can actually help resolve the hurt and anger that has lingered after the relationship breakdown.
The moral of the story – if you find yourself seeking revenge, have a frank discussion with your family lawyer about what you want to achieve, and whether it is achievable. If you are feeling hurt and angry, explain the basis of those feelings. To reveal that information is important, as your family lawyer will be able to tell you the parts of it that will be ‘legally’ relevant (to financial and parenting outcomes), and the part which have no place in the legal process.
That does not make the legally ‘irrelevant’ part any less important – it just means that you can deal with it in a different way, by having your family lawyer refer you to a counsellor.
That might be a different pathway than you had in mind, but better to get help that will actually assist you move on, rather than proceed under a misapprehension that going to Court will deliver that closure.
In family law, revenge is not a dish served cold, but rather, is a dish which is consciously removed from the menu. As a family lawyer, I find myself more commonly recommending another similar theme, and this is, that the best revenge is living well (and you can read my blog on that subject here).