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Fear and Divorce: A Four-Letter Tool for Moving the Divorce Process Forward
(provided by Marion Lee Wasserman, Esq.)

Fear and divorce go together. Pointing this out to divorcing individuals as part of the divorce process can be extremely helpful. "Fear" is a powerful word. It puts the truth of the matter, emotionally speaking, on the table -- plainly, clearly, non-euphemistically. When the divorce client I am representing is angry at his or her spouse and feels too hurt to negotiate, or when spouses in divorce mediation are each so convinced of their conflicting positions on an issue that constructive conversation has come to a halt, I often find that this evocative word -- FEAR -- is a key that can be inserted into the process to move it forward.

Take, for example, Matt, a husband in mediation who is angry at his wife, Jen, because, without prior notice to him, and in violation of a written mediation agreement they signed, she has withdrawn ten thousand dollars from their joint savings account and deposited it into a new, individual account in her name. Even though there is still a hefty sum in the joint account, and even though the parties agreed at the prior session to eventually divide the joint account fifty-fifty, Matt is hurt and angry because Jen moved a portion of the funds without talking it over first with him.

In this case, I might say to Matt, "You know ... everyone going through a divorce is struggling with a set of fears. Everyone. It's part of the territory." (Pause. Matt nods. I continue.) "I'm guessing that you have a set of fears about what the divorce will mean." (Matt nods some more.) "And I'm guessing that Jen does, too." (I look at Jen. She is nodding, too.) "You each have a different set of fears. But there may also be overlap. Some fears may be the same for both of you. You each know what your own fears are. It may be really helpful to our process if you can each understand more about the other's fears." At this point, I may ask Jen what some of her fears are. I may then ask Matt about his. Or I may ask each party to tell us one of the fears he or she thinks the other party has.

In the above example, the conversation about fear leads to greater understanding and empathy between Matt and Jen. One of Jen's fears is that she will have trouble functioning on her own after the divorce. She opened her own bank account in order to have funds available to help her start experiencing what it feels like to act more independently than she has in the past ... especially now that she has moved into an apartment of her own. Matt begins to feel less hurt and angry when he understands Jen's fears. Jen, for her part, apologizes for having acted unilaterally in withdrawing joint funds.

Although one might expect divorce clients to want to avoid the subject of fear, I have found that clients find it a relief to discuss fear head-on. Divorcing spouses are relieved to acknowledge and confront their own forebodings and to acknowledge each other's as well. This acknowledgement comes from an authentic place in each individual, and for that reason it is a powerful tool for moving the divorce settlement process forward.

Copyright © 2011 Marion Lee Wasserman. All rights reserved. The above article is provided for general informational purposes. This article is based on Massachusetts law and applies to Massachusetts only. Furthermore, it is not intended to apply to any specific facts or circumstances and should not be construed or applied as legal advice or legal opinion or as tax advice or as establishing an attorney-client relationship.

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Marion Lee Wasserman, Esq. located at

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