Use Empathy to Help Settle Your Divorce Case

Larry Sarezky, Esq.

“What the world needs now is love sweet love,
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”
– Burt Bacharach / Hal David

Not to nitpick, but love isn’t the only thing the world has too little of. Empathy, a key component of emotional intelligence, is also in short supply. And empathy is particularly important during divorce where run-away emotions can delay what you and your children need most: a speedy and fair resolution of all issues.

Spouses who use empathy to understand and identify with each other’s emotions and attitudes have the upper hand in settling their cases. Borrowing from another lyric, if you can “walk a mile in [your spouse’s] shoes,” you’re likely to reach “yes” that much quicker, easier and cheaper. Try to experience emotions and attitudes such as anxiety or entitlement that your spouse might be feeling about certain issues. The insights you gain can be of great help in resolving issues in dispute.

Let’s say your children will be living principally with you. Recognize that your spouse may be afraid that his/her time and relationship with the children will be unreasonably limited. First, tie into your own emotions. Imagine how you would feel as the “out-parent” worried about missing too much of your kids growing up. Don’t just think about it; try to feel it. Then use the insight you gain to address your co-parent’s concern without compromising the children’s interests. In this example, you might suggest a settlement agreement provision giving your co-parent a “right of first refusal” (ahead of third-party caretakers) to have the children if you become unexpectedly unavailable. Or suggest “virtual visitation” via Facetime, Skype, etc. to supplement actual time.

Similarly, if you are the primary earner in your family, anxiety over financial security may cause your spouse to demand an unreasonably large amount of spousal support. Understanding and feeling that anxiety by thinking about one of your own big worries will help you avoid over-reacting to that demand. And the insight you gain can help you come up with ways to reduce your co-parent’s anxiety. For example, a spouse’s focus on long-term financial security might mean that he/she would accept a smaller support amount for a longer period. Or, if your spouse is more concerned about covering expenses in the short-term, a larger amount for a shorter period may do the trick.

What your world needs now is for you and your spouse to understand and respect each other’s needs and fears, and to use that knowledge and sentiment to move quickly toward a fair resolution of the issues in your divorce.

This article is based on material in Larry Sarezky’s new book
Divorce, Simply Stated available at
Learn how to keep children off the custody battlefield with Talk to Strangers, the Telly-Award winning short film and accompanying parents’ guide available at
© Laurence Sarezky 2016


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