Unreasonableness From Your Spouse During Divorce

Don’t be shocked if you have to deal with some “unreasonable behavior” from your spouse: This is a divorce after all. Each of you may be a little gruff or uncooperative at times. Being prepared for it can help you discount some grumbling as simply going with the territory. Often, your lawyers can serve a useful role by buffering you from each other’s occasional animosity. But, just how much unreasonableness does it take to constitute a real problem, and then, how do you respond to it?

Denise had a real problem with Bart; however, Bart wasn’t doing anything now that we could complain of to the court. Bart couldn’t be restrained from what he’d already done.

Bart refused to back down from his claim to nearly half of Denise’s property. The problem was, we didn’t think he was entitled to it. At the time of the marriage, Denise had a great deal of property and Bart had virtually nothing. Denise didn’t make any changes in her property during the marriage, which meant that it should still be her separate property. We suspected that Bart had been creating documents to support his claim by improperly handling the finances. If we could show that he was hiding, destroying or altering them, we’d have evidence to take to the court. That wasn’t going to be easy, because Bart told us that he had been throwing all the paperwork away for fifteen years.

We had work to do, and for a start assumed that none of the investments or transactions made after the date of the marriage were as they appeared. Photocopies of documents were subpoenaed to show the source of funds for every transfer. Tracing every dollar and correlating the transactions was tedious, but it produced results: Bart had been abusing his power as a spouse to manage their property. The court would probably have made an award of the fees and costs due to Bart’s devious behavior because the tracing disclosed a systematic transfer of Denise’s funds into joint accounts; however, the case settled very favorably.

Aggressive, unreasonable conduct during the divorce proceeding demands a different response. Eric had been hassling Betty for years; in fact, he seemed to get his satisfaction by trying to drive Betty insane.

When they began their divorce action, neither of them used an attorney. One hearing had been held six months earlier, and still neither had an attorney. Eric had recently filed another motion asking for an order that Betty comply with the terms of the first order.

The court papers and correspondence Betty brought in showed that she had written Eric several times to set up an acceptable location to exchange the property to comply with the first order. Eric had refused every request as unacceptable, without ever proposing an alternative location. Now he told the court that because she hadn’t complied with the first order, she should be told in specific terms just what to do this time and to pay him the rental value of his equipment for the last six months.

We filed Betty’s lengthy declaration with copies of the letters she had sent to Eric to get the "true facts" before the court. We thought we’d show the judge who the true culprit was.

Eric repeated his barrage of complaints in court about all the things Betty wasn’t doing. The attorney that Eric had now retained faithfully repeated all of Eric’s ranting. We proved that Eric had prevented Denise from complying with the order. Unfortunately, the judge got fed up with the entire case and refused to take either side. The best we could do after that was move the case along as quickly as possible, communicate only in writing and be sure that all orders were incredibly precise.

Divorce litigation doesn’t always go the way we would like. It’s not always fair. Bart should have paid the extra costs in proving Denise’s claim. However, it never went to court because the settlement was so attractive. That’s still better than Denise’s result. Eric should have received a dressing-down from the court based on his “bad faith” conduct that we proved to the court; instead, Eric made the case so distasteful to this judge that the judge didn’t want to hear any more of it.

Here are a few general rules. Document each significant act of unreasonableness by your spouse. Send written warnings before you take any unreasonableness issue to court. Do not hesitate to take your problem to court once you have a clear basis for your complaint.

Move your case along quickly to minimize the extra expense of this squabbling. Don’t waste time on settlement discussions if after you send a letter outlining a reasonable proposal you get no response or an unreasonable response; you’ll surely end up trying your case. Spend your time in trial preparation and planning how to present your claim for attorney’s fees most effectively. Hopefully, your methodical preparation to take your case to trial will prompt your spouse to make a reasonable response to your settlement proposal, but either way you’ll be prepared.