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Contentious divorce on the rise

Jennifer Hargrave, of Hargrave Family Law, was recently a guest on WIOD Miami-Fort Lauderdale with host, Brian Mudd. She was asked about the increasing trend for highly contentious divorce and what has attributed to this alarming trend.

Listen to the show:



Speaking as someone who was once divorced and now happily married for going on 13 years, nothing about divorce has ever been fun.  I have a family member going through a divorce right now, and things seem a lot more difficult today than they were. So let’s talk about that with our guest, family law attorney, Jennifer Hargrave.

We know that divorce is stressful. And then on top of it, a lot of life around us is stressful. And these factors sound like they’re combining into a really ugly situation. What do you think, Jennifer?



In my practice, we certainly are seeing more conflict in divorce.  I always try to promote a more collaborative approach to divorce, including divorce with mediation, but even with my clients, we’re facing situations where there’s a lot more animosity and people are wanting to take their battle to court.  That only increases costs and increases the trauma. I think in divorce when we go back and relive old wounds and try to get vengeance for the hurt that we’re experiencing, it’s hard on the family. And we are seeing a lot more of that. 



And Jennifer, what you’re describing is the difference where most people have typically wanted to find the best path forward just to be able to move beyond. And what you’re describing is that increasingly people are going out of their way to exact as meaningful of an outcome in their eyes, against their partners, as they can.



Yes, in my experience, it’s really the difference between focusing on the future, on what do you need to get to the very best position to start your next chapter, right? And that next chapter should be filled with hope and optimism and things to look forward to, like a new marriage. So congratulations on your 13 years! 

But what we’re finding right now is people are really stuck in the past, right? They’re really focusing on all the things that were wrong. The disappointments, the unmet expectations,  on all the ways that the marriage did not live up to their goals and they want to go back and litigate that.

 I once heard a mediator say, and I think these are really wise words, that our court system is not really a justice system, it is a legal process. And so people think I’m going to get justice. I’m finally going to feel good by making the other person hurt as much as I’m hurting. And it just doesn’t work that way.

Of course, you know, the legal process is designed to exacerbate conflict, and I always want people to be educated and understand that. So if you want to have a battle, you can certainly have a battle and lawyers will take your money. And the cost is going to be more than just financial, it’s going to cost in terms of time. And it’s going to cost in terms of the emotional wherewithal that you have to spend through that process. And so I always want to encourage people to focus more on the future as opposed to the past, but we’re definitely seeing a lot of battles. So, even for my clients who generally want to move forward, we’re stuck having to deal with all the past stuff just because that’s what the other side wants to do. And it’s expensive.



And it sounds like you’re playing the role of guidance counselor, as much as attorney in these situations, which I’m sure complicates matters. If you’re dealing with someone who wants to go there, who wants to make it as nasty as possible, what’s a good way to try to get from here to there and  bring down the temperature? 



I think the first thing is to stay really focused on what your own personal goals are. So identify those goals. A lot of people in my experience don’t naturally do that as part of the divorce process, but when you have your goals in mind, then we can focus on moving in that direction. It’s easy to get derailed by all the nastygrams that lawyers send.  The conflict can escalate very easily. And so, if you can stay fixated on your goals and not on all the shenanigans that are going on, you’re going to have a better chance of getting there. It may not be on your timeline. It may not be exactly what you want, but have those goals and stay focused on those goals.

The other thing is to be flexible. You know, we don’t have crystal balls, so there’s no way to predict exactly how things are gonna go, but remain flexible and stay focused. 

And, another thing is to find a divorce lawyer who aligns with your values. So, a lot of times, out of fear, people choose to go with a pit bull and take somebody who’s known to be the most aggressive in town. And that isn’t always going to be in your best interest. I mean, sometimes it is, you know, if that’s what you need.



Thank you. You bring up a really good point there, much appreciated.