Guard against letting emotions drive your divorce

By Staff

Divorcing couples should resist the temptation to let emotion rule the process, says Toronto family lawyer and divorce recovery coach Leanne Townsend.

Given the personal and financial upheaval associated with a disintegrating marriage, Townsend, a partner with Brauti Thorning LLP, acknowledges that it’s impossible for parties to completely isolate themselves from their feelings.

“Most people who are going through a divorce will be guilty of letting their emotions drive things at some point, but as a rule of thumb, it does not generally lead to good decisions,” she says. “The best advice is for them to hit the pause button, and make sure they’re making decisions from a place of calm and logic.

“You have to be driven by what makes the most sense in the circumstances, as opposed to running on your emotions,” Townsend tells

She says reactive decision-making is a recipe for disaster, with hostility escalating as each person seeks to outdo the hurt caused by the other.

“In a divorce, there really are no winners. If you’re fighting to win or to get revenge on your former partner, then it’s going to create a very bad situation,” Townsend says.

That’s especially true in cases where former spouses share parenting responsibilities, she says, adding that parties should do their best to avoid exposing their children to the gritty details of their dispute.

“The divorce process should have nothing to do with the children. As far as they are concerned, they have two parents who love them and who they want to have a healthy relationship with,” Townsend explains. “There is absolutely no benefit to telling a child that dad is not paying his child support or that this divorce is only happening because mom was cheating.

“When parents badmouth each other to their children, they drag them into an adult world where they don’t belong.”

For former spouses who are struggling to maintain composure when their ex-partner knows exactly which hot buttons to push, Townsend offers a few tips:

Lean on your support team

If you’re going through a high-conflict separation, make sure you have a therapist, coach or good friend who you can talk to or vent to without bringing your children into it,” she says. “That way, you can get it out of your own system and process things in a healthy way.”

Use your lawyer for legal advice

While a lawyer may seem like a convenient person to confide in when suffering emotionally, Townsend says it’s usually not the best idea.

“They are there to give you legal advice, not emotional guidance,” she says. “Some lawyers are great for giving common-sense advice, but you want to make sure you’re not paying them for something you could get from a friend or family member.”

Take a moment

Townsend says clients are most vulnerable to acting on their emotions in the immediate aftermath of a triggering comment from their ex.

“If you get an email or phone call that is upsetting, never react in the moment. Hit pause, wait until the next day and try to speak to someone else about it. Don’t just respond when you’re in that highly emotional state,” Townsend says.

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