“Setting the right tone” is a commonly overlooked element at the outset of a divorce. Although it’s true that some divorces will ultimately become adversarial in nature because of the personalities involved or the issues, even the most amicable divorce can become contentious as a result of poor choices in the initial phases of the divorce process.
What do we mean by setting the “wrong” tone? A classic example of setting the wrong tone is serving your spouse with papers before discussing your intent to file for divorce. Other examples are (a) draining the joint savings or checking account, (b) running up the joint credit card, or, (c) in order to gain an edge in a custody battle, filing for an order of protection or alleging abuse. These types of actions might not only be harmful to your case, but they are harmful to your family and any future working relationship with your spouse. While it may seem strange to contemplate a future relationship with a soon-to-be ex-spouse, if you have children, you will have an ongoing relationship, whether you like it or not.
How can you set the “right” tone? For starters, you must communicate with your spouse or his or her attorney in a respectful tone at all times both during and after the divorce. Also, it’s essential to have a professional working with you who understands the importance of being respectful to opposing counsel. Many divorces get “ugly” because of the personalities involved and also because of attorneys with strong personalities who can derail an otherwise amicable process.
It’s not only the parties who must set the right tone in a divorce, but also the attorneys. Therefore, it is essential to select an attorney who recognizes the importance of “setting the tone.” An attorney can set the correct tone by (a) not agitating the dispute between the parties for personal gain, (b) communicating respectfully with opposing counsel despite divergent views on the issues, and (c), acknowledging the needs and interests of both parties in the process. Additionally, it is vital for an attorney to keep a consistent tone and theme throughout the divorce. If custody or spousal support is of vital importance to you, then don’t confuse that message or weaken the import of those matters with less important issues.
When one spouse sets the wrong tone, it is tempting for the other spouse to react inappropriately. The importance of first impressions is well documented. It is no different in divorce. That’s why the best practice when starting a divorce is an appropriate, respectful and consistent tone for the duration of the process, through an attorney who understands the importance of these considerations.