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The Divorce Coach's Corner: The Difference Between a Good Argument and a Bad Argument
(Brooke Deratany Goldfarb, Esq.)

When most people think of divorce, they get an image in their head of two angry and upset people fighting with each other. When people are divorcing, it is highly likely that at least one of them has at some point said or done something to enrage the other. Most of the time, when people get divorced, they don't see eye to eye. They argue over money (or the lack thereof), the division of assets and liabilities, how to parent and share time with the children, and countless other issues. With so much to argue about, how can a divorcing couple possibly be expected to resolve their differences amicably?

The answer is simple: Go ahead and have an argument. Just make it a good one.

What makes a "good argument" as opposed to a "bad argument?" Once again, I found an answer in one of my daughter's activities. One Sunday, I came in early to my daughter's 2nd grade Hebrew school class. Written on the board was an explanation of the difference between a "good argument" and a "bad argument." It went something like this: When people argue by taking turns respectfully listening to each other explain their different points of view and what they perceive to be true for them, that is a good argument, or what the rabbis of yore called, "an argument from heaven." This means no name-calling, no accusing, no dwelling on past hurts and sleights. In a good argument, when all is said and done, the parties have actually learned something from each other. They understand each other better and feel heard by the other person, even if they still don'y necessarily agree with each other, at least they can find some common ground or a resolution they can both live with.

When two people argue by calling names, making accusations and not listening to the other side; when they focus on trying to hurt each other with jibs and jabs; when they are more concerned with making their spouse "pay" for the pain the other person has invariably caused them, instead of what would be the most fair and equitable resolution for everyone concerned, that is a bad argument or what the rabbis called, "an argument not from heaven."

Processes such as mediation and collaboration provide safe forums for each party to express his or her own needs, desires and concerns through the use of good, healthy argument. Alternatively, the litigation of family matters in a court system very easily lends itself to the use of bad arguments. When litigation is involved, people tend to get all caught up in their anger without a healthy way to express it. Instead they focus on "getting" the other person or "punishing" their spouse by "beating" him or her in court and "winning." But in such a situation, no one really wins, and even when they win, they still lose. It is a Pyrrhic victory. One side might get his or her way but only at extreme emotional and financial cost to both the parties and their children. No one ever came out of litigation feeling like they had improved their relationship with their ex-spouse or that they felt better about their divorce. Most people come out of litigation feeling spent and oftentimes even angrier and more hurt than before. Litigation of family matters erodes any possibility of the all too important post-divorce parenting relationship. Even for parties without young children, the litigated divorce does not provide closure. The mediated or collaborated divorce on the other hand, does just that, and at a fraction of the legal fees of the litigated divorce.

When people choose to dissolve their marriage outside of litigation, either through mediation or the collaborative process, both sides are able to express their feelings and positions, and resolve their differences, in a healthy, productive way. They empower themselves to make their own decisions about their future. They are more likely to come away from the divorce process less battered and bruised, happier with how things worked out, and with the foundation laid for a healthier post-divorce life.

Good arguments through mediation and collaboration are helpful to the divorce process and the people involved. Mediation and collaboration are not about everyone just getting along and agreeing all the time. Rather, they are about everyone expressing his or her concerns, positions, fears and yes, even anger, in a healthy productive way, and getting to a resolution more quickly and sanely than they would if they decided to litigate the divorce instead. It benefits society as a whole when families can work out their own differences outside of the court system. Excessive fighting not only destroys families, it also clogs up the courts and prevents the truly irresolvable matters from getting the attention they deserve.

So go ahead and have a fight. Just make sure it is a "good" one and if you find yourself or your client in the unfortunate position of needing to dissolve a marriage, explore how mediation or collaboration can at least make this most stressful of life experiences a more positive and productive one.

Information provided by:
Brooke Deratany Goldfarb, Esq. located at

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