Spouses, either consciously or unconsciously, take on certain roles in marriages, whether by choice, by default or by virtue of a personality trait. Common examples are the roles of the breadwinner and caretaker of the children. Another illustration involves the financial dealings for the family: one spouse may handle them all, while the other spouse chooses to not be involved or is kept in the dark. Whichever role a spouse plays in the marriage, that role often continues into a divorce.
The Domineering and Submissive Spouse
Certain personality traits, or roles assumed during the marriage, can become more pronounced during a divorce proceeding. For example, a spouse who has typically been more submissive, or dependent on the other spouse for money or decision-making, may find it hard to be assertive in the divorce process. This spouse may also have trouble trusting their lawyer after relying on their spouse to make decisions that, allegedly, are in their best interests. Because the domineering spouse is often aware of the control he or she exerts over the submissive spouse, they continue to be domineering during the divorce process in a way that often leads the more submissive spouse to doubt their lawyer’s advice and tactics, driving a wedge between them. This can cause problems for the more submissive spouse during and after the divorce proceeding.
The domineering spouse may try to exercise control and impede the divorce process. For example, this spouse, when served with discovery for financial statements, might try to avoid providing documents by making the submissive spouse concerned about attorney’s fees. The domineering spouse may also falsely promise to provide documents “informally,” seeming to be cooperative and amicable when they in fact have no intention to produce anything.
Don’t Repeat the Marital Roles
It is important for family law lawyers to recognize the dynamic between divorcing spouses, especially when representing the spouse that may have been more submissive during the marriage. There are various tools that both the divorce lawyer and the client can employ to increase the confidence of a client who is nervous or anxious about making decisions in the divorce process. For example, the client may consider seeing a therapist or a divorce coach to become more comfortable in their independent decision making process.
While clear, open and honest communication between the lawyer and the client is essential, sometimes it is best for the spouses to cease communication altogether, unless there are children involved. This can prevent the more domineering spouse from further exerting control over the submissive spouse such as happened during the marriage. The goal is to help reduce the uncertainty of divorce by keeping the client focused, positive, and empowered, so they can better trust their judgment and embrace their newfound independence.