Every divorce has a danger zone. That period of time when things can go horribly, horrifically, tragically wrong.
In those cases where the woman has come to the point of no return, wants out of the marriage and demands a divorce is usually her time in the danger zone. Her husband's immediate reaction can cause a host of emotions; not the least of which is fear that he may become physically violent. And those initial emotions can drive a divorce in unforeseen directions.
But for men, the danger zone they experience is much farther down the divorce path. And it doesn't come suddenly but instead builds up slowly over time. It comes at the point when emotional exhaustion is reached and he has realized the woman he married is not the woman he is divorcing. It comes when she has worn him down with endless delays in court and hammered him in front of the judge about how she's "afraid of him" with vague references that are as flimsy as wet toilet paper. All the game playing with the children's visitation time, the parental alienation she may be indulging in and the overprotective mother act that makes it look like he can't care for his own child has him gobsmacked...and vulnerable.
It takes just four words for me to know a man is in the "Danger Zone." He just has to say one, specific phrase and I know that I have to launch into my role as coach, cheerleader, personal therapist, life coach, dating coach, financial advisor and spiritual support system for a brother who has been beaten and battered by the words and games of his soon-to-be-ex.
Once I hear the four words, I know that we are on the brink of defeat. He's about to give in and lose his past, his present and most of his future. When he says the "Danger Zone" words, he's in real trouble.
What are the words? "I just want out."
That's it. That's all it takes for me to know that I have a client who is about to sign his life away.
I've seen it hundreds of times. She works him over emotionally for months, in some cases, for years. By the time he's in my office, he's lost birthdays, holidays, countless weekends and midweek dinners with his kids. He's answered hundreds of inane questions, and produced mountains of financial documents.
It's at this point, when he's reached the end of his emotional rope, where he makes spectacularly bad decisions. He will agree to a lifetime of non-modifiable spousal support and is as flexible to her as a pair of pantyhose.
"I just want out" is the dying refrain of a man in a divorce.
It's painful to watch. I spend hours talking beaten-down men off the cliff of "I just want out." I remind them that the deals they make today have to be paid tomorrow. I tell them to go to Vegas, get drunk, do anything to get some distance and all will be better in the morning.
Keeping a man's spirits up during the lengthy process of a contested divorce is a major role and purpose for a lawyer like me. My job is not just to fight for the visitation schedule that a father deserves but to keep his resolve to leave the marriage with as much money as she gets. It's my job to create an exit plan for the spousal support and to have my eye on his future. Because in the fog of war - he can't see.
I remind my men that in a few months they'll lose the "Partner Pudge" they put on, he'll be out in a bar or hanging out with friends, and the game will have changed from when he was married.
Frequently my pep talks work. In those cases, when I've used every argument I have to keep him from giving up and I succeed, invariably he comes back to me in a year and thanks me. He tells me I was right. He's realized that there are many more women out there for him, that he has found a way to make the time with his children count, and he's grateful that he didn't sign his life away because he was thinking "I just want out."
Guiding a man through the "Danger Zone" is difficult, painful, and frequently frustrating. And oftentimes no matter how much I warn a client what may be in his future, many feel that it won't happen to them. Maybe it's a 'guy" thing. The reality is that we all want to throw up our hands sometimes and scream, "Enough!" But in the all too frequently rough and tumble world of divorce, where words slice like daggers and false statements are often viewed as fact, that surrender flag a man waves can actually be the start of another battle.
David T. Pissara's book, A Man's Guide To Divorce Strategy, can be purchased here.