Dallas divorce attorney Scott Downing remarks that "divorce is absolutely as nasty and contentious as you see on TV, sometimes even worse. I've had wives fighting over sports memorabilia because they know it means a lot to their husbands, and I've had husbands argue that a piece of jewelry he bought for his wife was really an investment, not a gift." (ibid, p. 127)
If you have kids, however, it's your duty to protect them from this type of nastiness in the same way you would remove them from the path of an oncoming train. Not just for their sake, but for your own.
What happens during a nasty divorce?
Here's what happens when parents (or any divorcing couple, for that matter) embark down the path of conflict and vengeance:
1) Both parties set out to injure the other person, and devote an enormous amount of time and energy in doing so. This time and energy comes at the expense of more noble pursuits, including devotion towards their children.
2) Both parties succeed in injuring the other person, which only further inflames the bitterness each person feels, which leads to continued, escalating conflict.
3) Thus both parties experience more pain, more suffering, and both parties come out as significant losers.
4) In the process, both parties severely injure their children. There is no way to overstate just how much they injure their kids. It is child abuse, pure and simple – every bit as harmful as battering them directly.
5) The kids endure long-term emotional harm and forever resent their parents for what they put them through.
Now, doesn't that sound like fun? If you're shaking your head no, then congratulations on having some common sense. Now it's important that you follow through with this sentiment.
Of course, divorce involves two people, and if your ex is determined to fight a nasty fight or try to drag out the conflict, you can't control his or her actions. But you can help your kids by taking the high road yourself. As Edward Teyber writes in Helping Children Cope With Divorce, "If both parents join the parental battle, children lose emotional access to both of them. There is no safe shelter from the storm. But if one parent can exercise restraint and not retaliate destructively, children lose psychological access to the other parent but still have emotional contact with the restrained parent." (Teyber, 1992, p. 83)