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David’s Divorce Dictionary: A is for Adjectives

Definition: descriptive words about a spouse used by a client, painting a very unflattering picture of the other, but conveying little useful information.

Clients in divorce cases use a lot of adjectives to describe their spouses. For example:

  • “She is a calculating, vicious person.”
  • “He is cheaper than dirt.”
  • “My ex is paranoid andcontrolling.”

Adjectives can speak volumes about how a client perceives the other party. But they are actually pretty hollow words. They don’t provide the information needed to advance a client’s cause. Family law professionals need to understand, objectively, the root problems that are to be solved.

Breaking away from adjectives and breaking down the specifics is essential. I need to know (for example): what exactly is it about the other person’s conduct or proclivity that creates problems for developing a responsible parenting plan? What is it about the other’s behaviors around money that could derail a reasonable financial settlement?

Once our conversations make the shift away from adjectives, we can focus on the specific behaviors that impact a divorce case.

For instance, if a client tells me her husband is cheap, I’ll ask for examples of family expenses she thinks will become an issue in the case. Is it paying for clothing for the children when they are with him? Is it paying for summer camp or for tutoring? Or is it that the client suspects the husband’s obsessive control of money will lead him to hide income or assets?

As we drill down more, the client and I gain clarity on the problems to be addressed. I might discover that the client fears that the husband cares more about preserving his money than about giving the children the advantages of a private school education.

Having come to the real issue, we can break it down further. The client and I might examine tuition costs and how paying for them fits into the family’s post-divorce budget picture. We might discover that the family will be entitled to financial aid after divorce. Or we might determine that lifestyle sacrifices will have to be made to afford private school. Perhaps we find that, in fact, the husband can afford private school but does not value the children’s education; or perhaps, we will find that his concerns are realistic once divorce drains the family financial pool. Our case strategy will springboard off of the results of our detailed conversations.

What’s the Takeaway? When it comes to understanding the issues that must be addressed in a divorce case, a thousand words shaded neutral-gray are worth more than a picture painted in colorful adjectives.

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