Home > Uncategorized > Magical Thinking-The Bane of Divorce

Magical Thinking-The Bane of Divorce

I know every attorney who does any family law knows this. Spouse A comes to us complaining of the behavior of Spouse B. Or we get the golden opportunity to respond on Avvo (http://www.avvo.com/free-legal-advice) to an indignant spouse that has to pay support to a soon to be ex wife who has never worked during the marriage. God FORBID he now discovers he can’t just walk away and tell her to “bugger off.” (More polite in America—not so polite in the UK.)

Yes, I got JUST such a person calling me, a week or so ago. I refused to discuss this on the phone, suspecting just what this scenario would be. Demanding that I do something—for free—to correct this HUGE injustice.

He condemned wife for not working, and I suggested maybe he should have known her character prior to marriage. He countered with “false advertising”—I countered with “then you didn’t know her Character for falsehood.” (I was not mincing words as it was clear he was never going to be a client. Plus if people ask me for advice I tend to shoot it straight, even when I KNOW they will not want to hear it.)

As the lament unfolds it turns out he makes solid 6 figures—so of COURSE there was a substantial award of “pendente lite” spousal support, plus arrearages, plus some attorneys fees. He now says the court is taking “his entire livelihood.” Clearly, this is untrue, but I guess he owes a good bit. However, his attitude was so bad, I began to suspect I knew why the court went slightly over “guideline” support. (Arrearages had accrued whilst he refused to pay… because it made him mad… but that, if course, was the fault of–well anyone but the guy himself.)

By the end of this thrilling exchange, he was telling me I knew nothing of his character and none of his (false advertising-prone, lazy etc. ) wife’s. Uh huh. So I accused him of… magical thinking.

He had informed me the purpose of contacting me was so there would be “reform” of this terribly unjust system. Actually, I think the real magical thinking was “I can get this person to tell me, for free, how to change what the court ordered.” (He had an attorney through all this situation, mind you.) I love when people contradict themselves rather then cop to the truth. And they do–oh they do.)

The award of attorneys’ fees no doubt came from his magical thinking– “this is not right because I don’t like it”– and the escalation in  fees on both sides made necessary by his refusal to pay without a court fight. Of course, the sad fact is,  his own attorney probably egged him on, seeing a fat paycheck. (This is unethical—and is based on pretty magical thinking by the attorney, too, as unhappy clients ALWAYS stiff you. But magical thinking is very common.) I even pointed out that if the shoe was on the other foot–he was the lower power spouse– he’d think the “level playing field” purpose of these laws was pretty fair.)

But what I ultimately wrote to him was: “You want legal reform. From me. For free. Magical thinking.”

I think that finally shut him up. But I had carried out this dialogue because I am so intrigued by the overwhelming pull of magical thinking on people. It seems intensified in divorce, but I could be wrong. Maybe it just seems more common here because I spend so much time watching it on Avvo. But I read about why people believe things that are false, such as “On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not”– http://www.amazon.com/On-Being-Certain-Believing-Right/dp/031254152X (I highly recommend this book.)
I see even a dear friend dismiss science when it  pokes her in her biases. Sigh.

Another case of magical thinking I will never forget is a meeting I had, with a fellow mediator (male) with a couple looking as collaborative divorce and/or mediation. Wife wanted a divorce—and to move to Hawaii. With the kids. (Her magical thinking–that this was gonna fly, without World War III). The husband/dad was a physician—a cardiologist, if memory serves. The man was a robot. I could see what wife might want out. But in frustration, at one point I asked him; “what do you think the worst case outcome will be if you litigate this?”

His response, which I will never forget, was as follows: “I will tell my story to the judge and there will be a fair order.” (Magical thinking. That might be the less than 10% probability BEST CASE outcome.) That was so not going to happen. I mentally wished the wife well and we adjourned shortly thereafter. I am sure there was a bloodbath.

What to do with/about magical thinking? I wish I knew. Comments welcome.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. catecumen
    December 15, 2014 at 1:49 am

    It is for reasons like this that I would like to transition away from the adversarial practice of law into divorce coaching. It’s way too easy to get caught up in a client’s view of reality.

    • December 16, 2014 at 12:29 am

      Alas, magical thinking is also a problem in coaching. People want to believe what they believe; about 80% of humans are just built that way. There is a growing body of science on this, and many studies have been done. If you ask for a HUGE amount of money, maybe people will be sufficiently invested to change! The system needs a tipping point. Good luck.

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