It’s NOT the Principle that Matters: Letting the Small Stuff Go in Divorce

I have a new mantra for you, “It is NOT the principle that matters.” Try that out. Say it a few times. Let it sink in. Because seriously, ladies, we can’t afford to be constantly governed by principles, especially when it comes to divorce.

I know, I know—your emotions are raw, your foundation has been shaken, and he had been a generally bad, bad man. He has hurt you for years, said unforgivable things, and has made you feel terrible about yourself. Trust me, I really do have the most sincere and heartfelt sympathy for you and for everything you’ve been through as your marriage has deteriorated. I want to help you get a fresh start. But, in order for me to do that, you’re going to have to let go of the “principles” a little bit and allow yourself the freedom to move on.

Your concerns may seem like the most important things in the world to you, and I’m not here to tell you that they are or are not actually important. I’m here to ask you one simple question: does it really matter? Is whatever it is worth fighting over? A lot of times, my client is fighting tooth and nail over something that she believes is desperately, critically important. At that point, we have to sit down and have a heart to heart chat. How much, realistically, is this worth to you—in dollars? How hard do you want to fight for this?

It’s NOT the principle that’s worth fighting for. That’s not to say, of course, that there’s nothing worth fighting for, or that you should roll over and play possum just to get this to all go away. That’s really quite the opposite of what I’m saying. You don’t need it to go away, and you don’t need to roll over—you need to focus on the most important things so that you can get the best new start possible.

I am saying that you should employ a non-emotional cost-benefit analysis (preferably with the aid of your attorney or other neutral decision-maker) to determine which points are worth fighting over and which points you should just let go.

The things that are worth fighting for are the big things—child custody, spousal support (if necessary), and your share of marital assets. If you’re angry about something and you’re preparing to fight over it, take a minute to ask yourself WHY you want to fight, what you hope to get out of it, and whether, after all is said and done, you’ll really feel better if you win. Remember, too, that there’s always a possibility that you’ll lose. Is it worth it?

Some things just aren’t worth fighting over, because of the time involved, the money it costs, the frustration you endure in the mean time, and the damage you’re doing to the relationship with your husband. You may not particularly care about that relationship now, but if you have children together, you’re really going to want to try to maintain as cordial a relationship as possible.

Would it be terrible if you gave him what he wanted? Do you think that if you offered him one thing, like an olive branch, you could maybe ask him for something else? Do you think you could pave the way for a more cooperative process by this one act of humility? These are all important considerations.

I would never suggest that you take an unfair deal just to keep the peace. As an attorney, I am ethically obligated to zealously represent my clients, and to always keep their best interests at the forefront of my mind. I try to temper that responsibility, though, with a little bit of common sense. Is my client only saying she wants this because she’s angry, hurt, or confused? Is it in her best interests if I pursue this course, or would I be better off to encourage her to take a different course of action? I try to weigh the advantages and disadvantages to give my clients the best outcome possible.

Contrary to popular belief, attorneys (at least, the attorneys I know) don’t feed happily off the misery of others. In fact, we encourage settlement and cooperation, mostly because we know full well that’s what’s in our client’s best interests. We prefer to do things that make our clients happy, both now and in the long run.

There are things worth fighting over, and there are things worth letting go. Take a moment and consider, each time you start to feel like fighting, whether this is something that’s really worth additional time, money, and blood pressure points.

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