If you’ve read through my website, you’re no doubt familiar with my philosophy that disputes are best resolved through non-adversarial means. But resolving conflict amicably requires that each spouse be willing and able to act in good faith. If, for instance, your spouse is hiding assets or income, running up debts or deliberately turning the children against you, it may be wise or even necessary to take forceful action.
When I say both spouses must be “willing and able” to act in good faith, I mean just that. Some people are not honest. For whatever reason, they operate under a value system that justifies taking what they can. Others are willing but not able. For example, a spouse who suffers from severe mental illness may have good intentions but not be able to see reality clearly enough to work together.
There are certainly times when people take legal action when they would be better off exploring other options. Too many people think of the Court as a magical place where perfect justice is dispensed. They imagine the judge as embodying the wisdom of Salomon.
In truth, the judges I’ve met have been great people who really mean well. But they’re just human beings who have been placed in the impossible position of having to play God. The very nature of the adversarial process produces more heat than light. And the court’s jurisdiction is limited by the law itself. People acting together in good faith can be infinitely creative whereas courts go down the same well worn grooves again and again. People acting together in good faith know the needs of their family inside out, whereas a judge receives, at best, a superficial overview of the spouses and the children.
Over the years, many people have come to me demanding their day in court, more than willing to dump large sums of money into my trust account if I will promise to carry the flag into battle for them. Far fewer have the wisdom to seek out my expertise in helping to achieve peace.
However, there are times when going to court is necessary. The best way to think of the court is as analogous to the hospital emergency room. No one wakes up on a gorgeous morning, the sun shining, the birds singing, and says, “My, what a lovely day; I hope I wind up in the emergency room.” But if, on your way to work, you get into a car accident and find yourself lying in the street, and if you’re conscious enough to think clearly, at that moment you’re probably hoping and praying for the ambulance to arrive as soon as possible. And you hope and pray for that ambulance knowing full well that the ER is an expensive, painful and even terrifying place to be.
That’s how people should think of the court. As a place that no one in his or her right mind should ever want to be — unless you really need it. However, if you really need it, then thank God it’s there. Even though it’s expensive, painful and perhaps even terrifying.
As I’ve said, judges are neither all wise nor all knowing. They do, however, sincerely try to enter orders that are fair to the parties and in the best interests of the children. If your spouse is not acting in good faith — in any of the ways set forth above or in other ways that a court can address effectively — it might be wise to consider taking the actions necessary to get your case in front of a judge.
The best way to figure out whether your case warrants taking adversarial legal action is to consult with an attorney who understands amicable forms of conflict resolution — such as mediation and collaborative divorce — but who also understands the importance of litigation when appropriate.