Preparing For Divorce: Don’t Fall Prey To Fake News

When preparing for a divorce spouses can say things that make it seem like the sky is falling.

All spouses experience some level of fear and uncertainty in divorce. Although those feelings might drive people to make some scary claims, they are usually just exaggerated and incorrect. 

I call these claims: ‘Fake News: The Divorce Edition.’ 

As a San Jose Divorce Lawyer for 18 years I’ve seen the damage fear can do to both spouses. Ratcheting down fear creates a better divorce for both spouses. 

How do you avoid Fake News? Here are three ways to identify Fake News, and three tips on how to respond to it. 

1) When does your spouse make the claim?

If you have an argument and your spouse storms off to be with friends or family and returns with various fear-inducing claims, treat those as suspicious. Friends or family, trying to help, often provide misinformation. Although sometimes well-intentioned, it makes things worse because it ratchets up fear. Your spouse deflects that fear to you. If new claims follow an argument, conversations with their family or friends, it’s probably Fake News: The Divorce Edition. 

2) Is your spouse willing to have a conversation with you about the topic?

Spouses who want to share information do so in a calm conversation. Spouses trying to scare you make outlandish claims in chaotic ways. ‘Taking the kids away,’ is probably the most common claim I hear. Parents concerned about their children do not rip them away from the other parent absent obvious, significant danger. Spouses who capitalize on a parent’s mistake and use guilt to expand your fear should generally be treated suspiciously. All parents make mistakes. If you have made a serious mistake, then seek legal advice. However, one parent’s mistake is rarely fatal to maintaining a parenting relationship. Such claims are probably Fake News: The Divorce Edition.

3) Does your spouse make these claims as if your spouse is the sole authority?

Any time a spouse claims a clear-cut, unavoidable truth in divorce you should be very suspicious. Most areas of civil law, especially divorce, have very few indisputable answers. If those existed, we would not need judges. Child support software uses mathematical formulas and yet different support numbers still arise from the same set of facts. Spouses who make legally and factually incorrect claims all the time. If your spouse cites no source, then they are likely designed to induce fear and are probably Fake News: The Divorce Edition.

Now that you can identify Fake News: The Divorce Edition, here are three tips to stop it.

1) Breathe.

Fear triggers emotional reactions that send us into fight, flight, or freeze. Pausing silently and taking a few deep breaths creates physical changes in your body that allow your logic and reason centers to resume control. Otherwise your emotional centers are operating when you are in fear. Breathing – on a physiological level – disrupts the emotional reaction your spouse seeks. So, take a deep breath. Don’t give in to Fake News fears, ignore them.

2) Respond to your spouse’s divorce information the same way every time.

I advise clients to create a divorce mantra, a short phrase you can use to respond to every one of your spouses’ fear-focused claims. You should create one too. Here are some examples: ‘you might be right,’ ‘I have a different view,’ or ‘thank you for your perspective.’ Said with a neutral tone, mantras give you two benefits: 1) A prepared response to use even when you are triggered; 2) An effective tool that tells your spouse that fear-based claims won’t work. Beware: when using your mantra consistently and successfully, your spouse may ratchet up the fear-mongering. Expect it, be prepared, breathe, and repeat your mantra. If you consistently stick with it they will usually give up. Don’t give in to Fake News fears, ignore them.

3) Find other trusted information sources.

If hiring an attorney is not an option, then find reliable resources, and stop relying on your spouse. The court’s self-help center or facilitator’s office is a good start. Many great online resources and books are published. My favorite resource is Divorce Options. This online class educates consumers about divorce process choices and provides basic emotional, financial, and legal divorce information. Class offerings are posted here:  Neutral divorce resources can become a lifeline during divorce because they provide factual information. Don’t give in to Fake News fears, ignore them.