You’ve heard of self inflicted injuries, right? Tonight, I’m not writing about win-win strategies which are obviously good; I’m writing about a person, a party, actively working to help the other side win, to their own detriment.
You’ve seen it before: someone can’t bear the idea of being successful, so they sabotage their success. Maybe they’ve got a drinking problem so they pick up the bottle, even though things are going their way. Maybe they’ve got a review at work coming up so they suddenly develop an inability to make it in to work on time. Maybe they are doing well at losing weight, so they decide to down a whole pizza along with several glasses of beer.
Now add in an adversary and a court case and you start to get the picture. Make it a custody case. Mom and Dad are divorcing. Mom has been the principle care giver since the children were born. Dad is a traveling man who travels a lot. In other words, he has deferred to Mom to raise their kids all along. Now, the parties are getting a divorce and Dad, who always thought he was the most important person in the universe, decides that the children have to live with him in order to survive.
Mind you, there is nothing particularly wrong with the children; they make decent grades in school. They have no particular medical ailments. They’ve suffered no questionable injuries. In other words, there is nothing to suggest that Mom has done a poor job at raising the kids, entrusted to her all these years by Dad.
Mind you, there is nothing particularly wrong with Mom. She’s held down a modest job for years. She hasn’t run around. She doesn’t drink excessively. She’s modest with the finances. She is far from a raving lunatic. In other words, there is nothing to suggest that Mom is a danger to the kids or would or has harmed them in any way.
So she should win, right?
Let me complicate matters a little further. Mom has always done what Dad wants. She’s conditioned to it. He says “jump” and she does, faithfully, always. He wanted this divorce, she didn’t. And she has taken a long time to even begin to get the idea that he might not have been a nice guy to her during their marriage.
So, she should win. Except that maybe she doesn’t want to. So Mom starts to help the other side win.
First off, she shackles her counsel. “Here’s what I want you to do. Here’s what I don’t want you to do.” She doesn’t let her counsel do their job. She has to micro-manage, thereby delaying the critical timing that is every family law case. She undermines every step taken by her counsel by reversing a course of action, collectively determined. She informs her husband of the strategy, “to be fair.”
Finally, when it is still quite obvious that she will win, she fires her counsel and hires a well-known bad-guy in family law. She goes from being the innocent spouse to the extremely suspect spouse. She goes from a strategy of “fait accompli” to “scorched earth.” She becomes the aggressor, thereby confirming for the judge all the bad things that Dad says about her. She lives up to his narrative.
We family law practitioners cannot prevent someone from crashing and burning, if that is their intent. If they want to kill their case, they will. If they want to surrender custody while pretending to fight for it, they will. If they want to prove the other side right, they will.
So what is to be done? Earlier in this blog, I wrote that it is critical to know yourself. Here is where it all comes home to roost. If you don’t know yourself, you can’t prevent your self-destruction. And if you do know yourself and know that you would prefer to self-destruct, you can do that for a pittance and not spend tens of thousands of dollars to crash and burn in a grand and glorious flame-out.
Of course, if you did that, you would deprive your ex of rubbing it in your face for the next several decades. And that’s no fun at all.