Divorce is an emotional rollercoaster – but are you paranoid?

How healthy is divorce litigation for everyone involved: clients, their families, the lawyers and others? How healthy is it for anyone involved in these cases?

Paranoia is a profound distrust or suspicion of others, which goes hand-in-hand with the belief that one is being persecuted. In divorce, these feelings can have some basis in reality. There may indeed be someone out to get you. Usually, it is the person to whom you had hitherto been closest: your spouse.

Unfortunately, divorce causes some people to become irrational or even delusional. Their perceived “persecutor” is nothing of the sort and may actually be a spouse who wants nothing more than to move on with his or her life.

The painting above is called “Paranoia”. What are the figures in the painting staring at and so worried by? There is no-one visible outside, so what or who do they think may be coming in through the door? Are they right to be worried or are they paranoid?

Its painter, Neo Rauch, is a stellar artist who was born in East Germany. His parents died in a train accident when he was four weeks old and he has clearly been profoundly affected by his background. A collection of his art was exhibited under the title Para at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2007, to rave reviews. I was in New York and visited the exhibition with my son Ben.

I must confess that only recently have I come to appreciate Neo Rauch’s work. His paintings can be very difficult to understand. They need a lot of thought. They certainly appear to be telling a story, but Rauch denies this. His paintings pose questions. Rauch says that his pictures can mean “anything to anyone”. So it is up to each one of us to decide what they actually mean.

Likewise, the emotional rollercoaster that is divorce encourages different people to respond in different ways. Innocent spouses can be accused of harassment and misconduct. The accuser may then refuse to allow the other parent to see a child. Thus the paranoia continues to play out, all the way into the courtroom, with the hapless child caught in the middle. Sadly, this is not uncommon behaviour in my experience.

In other cases, paradoxically, what appears to be delusional or paranoid behaviour is actually a perfectly valid and healthy response to a sinister situation. In such cases the persecutor will stealthily, relentlessly and deliberately increase the pressure and the cost – financial and emotional – upon the victim, while going to great lengths to make others believe that the victim is to blame. When the victim complains, the complaints are dismissed and he or she is wrongly criticised.

In all cases the perpetrators may be assisted by others, frequently members of their own family, close friends and unwittingly, even their own lawyers. I recently saw a TV programme about this phenomenon, which is called “groupthink”. The word is used to describe what happens when a group of people support one another, without questioning their plan of action. Lawyers will be familiar with clients who insist on bringing a family member or close friend with them, to provide unquestioning support. Lawyers, who act on their client’s instructions, may also become part of that unconditionally supportive group. But is this healthy?

Divorce causes emotional turbulence, which can affect the minds of both parties and their supporters. Profound love can turn into profound hate. Most people come through the divorce process bruised – but recover. But in a few, thankfully rare cases, those with controlling personalities may find it difficult to let go. Supported by their ‘group’, they may stalk their former partner playing mind games, determined never to stop until the spouse is worn out, exhausted and beaten.

All this of course, is why we have our Courts of Justice. The judges are there to level the uneven playing field, to identify the victim and to protect them from the perpetrator. Our courts are a bastion of strength, and their function is to apply justice.

Even so, I must confess that as a family lawyer, I enjoy the luxury of extended thought. I am currently advising the scriptwriters of a top British TV programme about a fictional court case. It is good fun because it gives me free rein to let my imagination run riot!

It has occurred to me, as I consider all the mind games that could play out in the courtroom, that perhaps a judge, alone in his ivory tower, could also play mind games with the parties before him. His motives could be many and varied. He would enjoy his power over them all. The parties would think he was administering justice. Despite all the evidence, however, the victim would become his prey.

Scary stuff! Could it happen in real life? Think of life as a Neo Rauch painting: I will let you make your own mind up!


Lenny - July 27, 2009 at 1:24am

“His paintings can be very difficult to understand. They need a lot of thought. They certainly appear to be telling a story, but Rauch denies this. His paintings pose questions. Rauch says that his pictures can mean “anything to anyone”. So it is up to each one of us to decide what they actually mean.”

Andrew Motion, the previous Poet Laureate, regards Bob Dylan as one of the greatest artists of the century, and describes Dylan’s poetry as “on the verge of lucidity”. It struck me as a very good description, not just for Dylan, but for art more generally, because the perception of any work tends to flick between the unconscious resonances and the conscious interpretation, rather like a [url=http://wisebytes.net/illusions/necker.php]Nekker cube[/url] flicking from one perception to another. It often seems that the tension of that unstable instant, when both the conscious and unconscious are fleetingly held together, is what the spark of creativity is about, and why art can give a glimpse of a deeper level of understanding.

“In all cases the perpetrators may be assisted by others, frequently members of their own family, close friends and unwittingly, even their own lawyers.”

Why unwittingly.? If the lawyer is simply “acting on the client’s instructions”, as is usually claimed, and the object is to secure a divorce, then presumably the lawyer should be doing everything to bring that about.

If, on the other hand, the lawyer was genuinely using due care and diligence to act in the client’s best interest, then shouldn’t the lawyer first of all be making it abundantly clear to the client, that marital problems are very complex, that lawyers are not trained in the understanding of those problems, and except in cases where the client may be in danger, be advising the client,very, very strongly to consult a counsellor before proceeding any further.? In other words there would be a proper recognition that there are two quite distinct areas of knowledge and activity that had to be kept separate.

As we’re all aware, banking also has two distinct areas of activity, merchant banking and traditional high street banking, and it was the failure to keep them properly separated that led to the current problems. The failure to keep them separate was a legislative and regulatory failure, due to an unholy alliance between politicians and a banking profession that had a totally misplaced confidence in its own abilities, and which enriched itself whilst simultaneously creating widespread problems for the rest of society.

The cast of characters is different, but isn’t it pretty much the same underlying pattern of events that has brought about the tide of problems that exercises Mr Coleridge.?

“Divorce causes emotional turbulence, which can affect the minds of both parties and their supporters.”

My understanding is that more divorces are instigated by women than by men. It’s tempting to speculate that women, due to ingrained stereotypng, may be conditioned to believe they’re more emotionally aware, and therefore believe they automatically understand the issues involved and have no need to acquire any deeper understanding. Frustration of that belief may then lead, in the words of Kipling’s poem, [url=http://www.potw.org/archive/potw96.html]The Female of the Species[/url]to “unprovoked and awful charges”, and “speech that drips, corrodes and poisons”. Men, bless us, on the other hand, are more likely to “propound negotiation and accept the compromise”.

Lenny - July 27, 2009 at 11:22am

Chrissy - July 28, 2009 at 2:05am

Divorce can be overwhelming and costly. I have found a book that will help with the cost and the stress of it all.
This book is called “Divorce Mediation from the Inside Out” written by Ora Schwartzberg, it contains the best set of financial forms available because they highlight the key issues to be explored during the divorce process, in a clear easy to follow format.

Ross - July 29, 2009 at 3:08pm

Lenny, the flitting between the conscious and unconsciousness through art, books, or whatever medium you choose, is created using a method known as the iceberg theory.

Iceberg theory generally states that you need to know about the subject as a whole and then the art, or book that’s written, is the top, visible part of the iceberg, 1/8th of the total iceberg.

The rest of it is what can’t be seen, under the water, and this is the part that’s required by the creator to allow the art to work on a subconscious level.

Lenny - July 29, 2009 at 11:52pm

Thanks for that Ross, I hadn’t come across it before, and it’s part of what I was meaning.

It’s also partly to do with the notion of universes of different dimensions, as explored in Edwin Abbott’s little Victorian tale, Flatland. The idea that beings inhabiting a two dimensional universe would be unable to look out into a third dimension, even though it’s all around them, although they may be able to work out what it would be like. Conversely, the inhabitants of a three dimensional universe would be able to see straight through a two dimensional one.

Similarly, in our three dimensional universe we’re unable to see a fourth dimension, even though it’s all around us, but can get some idea of what it’s like, and if we could project our consciousness into the fourth dimension we’d be able to look back at ourselves and see straight through our own bodies. When we look at a Necker cube, the mind has to resolve it one way or the other, but if we could hold both interpretations in mind at the same time, then that would start to give some idea of the fourth dimension. Perhaps our minds may evolve to be able to do that, or perhaps science may be able to augment our consciousness to make it possible.

In the meantime, art can do something similar by seeming to project our consciousness into another realm, and unifying alternative interpretations to the point where a deeper, or more complete view emerges.

Lenny - July 30, 2009 at 12:00am

Mark - June 3, 2010 at 10:55am

I would like to add that people should always avoid divorce but if things are not getting resolved than at least couple should not choose courts as a 1st option to resolve the disputes rather the mediators may help more and it would be money and time saving.


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