Eileen Coen Mediation
The road you take makes all the difference.

How to Get A Divorce: When Being “Right” is Wrong

how to get a divorce when being right is wrong

Many people begin the divorce mediation process with at least one thing in common: Both parties want their divorce to be cooperative, quick, and cost-effective.  That’s what they say at the outset and, I believe, that’s what they truly mean.  However, once the negotiations begin, well-meaning people can fall into a trap that deepens the conflict, prolongs their divorce, and winds up costing them more money than they ever imagined. The trap is “standing on principle” a.k.a. “right makes might.”

Many of us have heard the quip, “You can be right, or you can be married.”  Well, this is true too:  “You can be right, or you can be divorced.”  

Sure, there are some issues that are so critical that it’s important to hold firm and insist on what’s “right.” (For example no drinking and driving with our children in the car).  But more often, I see folks get tripped up unnecessarily over relatively minor disagreements.  For example, the couple who held up their otherwise complete financial agreement because they deadlocked over which of them was responsible for paying a $135 utility bill.  In this case, being “right” sounded something like this:   I am not going to be taken advantage of!; I’ve given in more than you have, now it’s your turn!;  It’s not fair!;  You have no right to… You get the pictureIn the end, these folks paid considerably more than the amount in dispute to resolve their disagreement.  And that was a good outcome — Some folks head for the courthouse.

You may be right, but you don’t want to be dead right.   Imagine you are about to cross a busy street. You wait for the pedestrian sign to flash before you cross. Just as you are about to step off the curb, you see an 18-wheeler is barreling down on the intersection, with no indication of stopping at the red light.  The truck driver is clearly “wrong” to be running the red light, and you are “right” to cross with the signal.  Intuitively you know this is not a time to stand on principle. You may be right but you don’t want to be dead right.

Divorce negotiations present many 18-wheelers.   It’s not easy to see them coming and even harder to dodge them.  Blindsided by “principle,” you step into the lethal intersection.  You may be right, but you will not be divorced.

In a cooperative divorce, parting spouses commonly consider the reasons they would agree to something that goes against their notions of fairness or principle.  There could be any number of reasons: to shield your children from ongoing conflict, to spare yourself the stress of hanging in limbo, or to finally close this unhappy chapter and move on.

It helps to get clarity about your goals and prioritize them. Write them down and refer to them whenever you feel stuck.  Ask yourself if winning that particular battle will help you achieve your most precious goals? It’s not about being right.



  1. sarah gayer says:

    Agreed wit your comments. But it comes down to getting even and payback even sometimes at the expense of the children. You are dealing with emotions and when emotions take over rationality leaves. As a mediator we try and get the parties to refocus on that which is important and keep bringing them back to that. it is not easy especially as we move along the process.

  2. Anne M says:

    Good thing you have the tools for helping people to see those 18-wheelers! Great article. Concise, well written and thought-provoking.


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