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When The Fairy Tale Ends In Divorce, Start Reading The Fables

10/12/2011 12:08 pm ET | Updated Dec 12, 2011

As a practitioner of family law, I am often reminded of the childhood fable involving the scorpion and the frog. For the uninitiated, the story is as follows: A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream. The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across the stream. The frog is reluctant to comply and asks the scorpion, "How do I know that you won't sting me?" The scorpion responds, "Because if I do, I will die too." This response makes sense to the frog so the scorpion jumps on the frog's back and they set out to cross the stream. In midstream, the frog feels a distinctive sting and paralysis begins to set in. Knowing that they will both soon drown, the frog gasps "Why?" The scorpion replies, "It's my nature..."

In the area of domestic relations, there are scorpions galore as seemingly intelligent and capable adults abandon all reasonable codes of conduct and engage in behavior that is both vindictive and self-destructive. Over the years, I have witnessed this behavior in numerous cases. A wife commences the litigation by inviting her husband out to a romantic anniversary dinner at a restaurant where a process server is lying in wait to serve the husband with divorce papers. A husband who is convinced of his wife's infidelity makes the child support check payable to "Janet Jones - Cheating Wife". Another husband who is upset about the court's alimony order writes, "Shame on You!" in the lower left hand corner of his spousal support check. A mother allows the parties' teenage son to read through the testimony and pleadings in the divorce case. A father asks the parties' young daughter to deliver the child support check to mom as a reminder to the child of how much money dad is paying to support the family. More often than not, this conduct is part of a pattern which contributed to the breakdown of the marriage and which is now escalating conflict in the divorce. The scorpion spouse scoffs at the protestations of the other party and opposing counsel when these behaviors are called into question. It's no big deal. It's their nature.

In a depressed economy where divorcing parties face enormous financial challenges, the misguided and self-destructive conduct of a divorcing spouse has a huge impact on the pending litigation. Parties with limited assets and no children often incur significant attorney's fees due to the antics of one party who refuses to play by the rules of either the court or the social compact. Meanwhile, other litigants who have significant assets and minor children are often able to minimize their litigation costs by embracing a cooperative approach that benefits both their children and their bank accounts. The abundance of literature for divorcing parties correctly emphasizes the need for parties to work toward joint and productive solutions to their contested issues. However, given the frequency of childish games and bad behavior displayed by some litigants in divorce cases, I recommend that the reference guides for parties to a divorce include the scorpion and frog fable (which is of unknown origin) and the more popular, Aesop's Fables.

The timeless stories contained in Aesop's Fables contain simple and succinct morals which would benefit many a divorcing spouse. For the controlling spouse who remains clueless about the reasons for the divorce filing, I recommend the story of the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, which teaches that, "A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety." For the naive spouse whose partner promises a generous settlement without the need for lawyers or a full disclosure of assets, I suggest the fable that teaches, "Beware the wolf in sheep's clothing." For the parent who persists in berating and belittling the other parent in the presence of the children, there's a lesson in the story of the Bee and the Jupiter, which instructs that, "Evil wishes, like chickens, come home to roost."

For the young and old who are lucky in love and are either married or contemplating marriage, the fables should be allowed to gather dust, since a better read for lovers is the fairy tales. In fairy tales, ugly toads become handsome princes, pumpkins turn into BMWs and the bride and groom live "happily every after." If you're living the dream or working toward this goal, embrace the romance and enjoy the fairy tales.

That being said, if the romance is over, the papers have been filed, and you are now hoping for eternal happiness after your divorce is final, consider the fables and mind your manners in the divorce proceeding. If you're the frog in the scorpion and frog story, hire an experienced divorce attorney and try not to get stung. When your scorpion spouse is on a path of self-destruction, stay on the high road, wait for your day in court and remember the story of the Heifer and the Ox which teaches that, "He who laughs last, laughs best."