Early in my career a colleague flippantly remarked, “it’s a divorce…everybody lies.” Every person involved in a divorce has their own version of the truth. For families involved in a divorce, there are a multitude of truths and a fair number of alleged lies. As family law practitioners, we try to sort out a complex, interpersonal mess and set people on a path to a healthier new existence.
It is incumbent on a family law practitioner to delve into the personal lives of our clients and find out what the heck is going on. I have to ask really hard questions, which may include how much credit card debt you have, whether you are legitimately scared for your safety, what is the best outcome for the children (not just you), and, the toughest question, whether one or the other is having an affair. At another office somewhere across town, a colleague is on the receiving end of a similar narrative with an entirely different spin. So begins the process of unraveling one family into two different entities.
I tell myself that every person is the star of their own personal soap opera. A differing perception of the truth does not always equate to a lie. I urge my clients to use discretion before sharing their version of the “truth” with their children. Children want to love their parents. Telling children about a parent’s indiscretions will only hurt a child further. William Shakespeare said it best in the Merchant of Venice when he wrote, “The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” The sins of a mother are laid upon her children, too. You should use caution before you share the treacherous misdeeds of your spouse.
Many clients demand a hearing believing that only a judge can ascertain the truth from a lie. Our judicial officers are over-burdened with the onerous task of sorting through viciously contested, opposing versions of the “truth” in order to allocate custody, divide assets and determine parenting time. Putting aside your need for the truth to be revealed in a judicial setting might be the only way to spare your family extended, bitter litigation. You can put on your big-boy (or big-girl) pants and negotiate your own settlement relying on the expertise of your chosen attorney or chose to submit to mediation or arbitration.
I tell my children that an ugly truth is better than the prettiest lie. Entrust your confessions to your clergy or your lawyer. Then do your best to go forward in your life by putting the past behind you and creating a truthful new existence.