Dealing with family breakdown can be like trying to put Europe back together after WWII. To ensure that getting your order for divorce, property division, parenting arrangements and/or support costs you less than the treaty-making process after a world war, turn to family and friends, counsellors, and spiritual advisers, and most of all turn inward to see what you can do to deal with the conflict outside the court process.

Don’t Litigate Your Grief

You have to understand why the legal system is not the place to work out the emotional issues left over at the end of your partnership. The court is equipped with some pretty blunt tools to deal with family breakdown. Many of them boil down to money: one party pays the other party. Some of them restrain specific behaviours, like harassment or hiding funds. The rest of them involve either shuttling children around between two homes, or restricting time for one parent to less time than they wanted.

Going to family court is about putting rules in place specifically for you and your ex-partner—not just deciding how all the “things” and the pets and the time with little people are going to be divided. You can decide that between yourselves. When you get lawyers to help you decide, you can be confident that your deal is one that the court can endorse and enforce.

When you can’t agree with your ex-partner, you can ask the court to decide—just be ready for the whole thing to cost about as much as a luxury car or small condo or an independent film budget. No matter whose fault it is, it may end up costing you more than the big fat family wedding. And the results may not be what you expected.

Don’t Litigate Your Moral Outrage

Every relationship has a history in which at least one person felt like he or she was on the losing end of a power imbalance.

Usually, both partners feel this.

Sometimes there really is a gross power imbalance, in the case of emotional/mental, physical or financial abuse. I would like to say that the court always recognizes these extreme cases and acts to right the balance. It tries. It has the tools. It doesn’t always have the insight. It doesn’t always have the opportunity.

Sometimes, one party holds all the cards and is counting on the other party to give up.

But in many cases, someone is looking to the legal process to help get vengeance for past wrongs. It may be unconscious. It may even be you (ask yourself: am I approaching this like I’m someone’s victim?).

This a costly mistake. It’s hard enough for most BC residents to take what used to be their pooled resources and spread them over two households. When you add lawyers’ fees paid to argue over medium to small matters, it just doesn’t add up.

Try not to Litigate Anything

Recognize that (as long as you don’t have a no-contact order in place) you’re still allowed to have peace talks with your ex. Discussing and negotiating over email can move you forward, even if you need your lawyer to help finalize things. If you are going to be co-parenting children, this can also help set you up for the time when the lawyers are long gone and you still have to communicate somehow.

Recognize that, having ended the relationship, you don’t “win” by seeing your ex suffer at the hands of a judge, or by seeing your ex stripped of assets or by seeing your ex in a reduced role in your children’s lives. They say the best revenge is living well. Your best outcome is all about you and your recovery.