The Psychology of Divorce
With more than 35 years of experience as a divorce attorney and psychologically
trained mediator, I am a strong advocate for divorce with dignity.
I have mastered techniques using psychology and sound legal strategy to
get couples through the divorce process without going insane or draining
their bank accounts.
In my many years of practicing law and medicine and treating personality
and mood disorders, I have learned that separation and divorce are not
simply legal issues. Psychological issues drive the divorce process in
a crucial way.
After witnessing the emotional pain of many couples, I decided to develop
a unique psychologically infused mediation process to tackle divorce in
a more humane and civil way. My divorce technique addresses both the head
(legal strategy) and heart (emotions) of the divorce process. This groundbreaking
method of marrying legal strategy and psychology saves couples time, money and pain.
Call to schedule your confidential consultation: (646) 663-4546
The central truth about divorce is that it is a “psychological experience.”
Divorce is far more than just what is in the court papers or what a judge
decides. Divorce is about people, psychology and the emotional health
of a couple. The traditional divorce system is a conflict-based, lengthy
and costly process that completely ignores the psychological component
Why fight when you can discuss, negotiate and participate in a thoughtful
and peaceful divorce process? My divorce mediation method involves behavior
modification, the use of psychology—identifying personality and
character traits, emotions and family dynamics—and applying the
law to develop strategies for a more positive experience and successful
outcome. My divorce approach is powerful, positive and productive, with
a special emphasis on the psychology of divorce.
Mediation is a negotiation process between divorcing spouses on the important
issues: finances, property, spousal and child support, custody and visitation.
As the divorce mediator, my role is to keep you talking, on track and
to make sure negotiations are reasonable as well as offering creative
suggestions when you hit a roadblock.
The focus of mediation is for you to control your own divorce. Spouses
have the opportunity to discuss their personal needs and priorities and
to arrive together at an agreement that is fair to both of them.
What divorcing couples feel, think and do has a huge impact on both the
process and the substantive outcome of divorce. Using my divorce method,
divorcing couples can get better results and make their journey less adversarial.
For couples that have never traveled the divorce path before, it can be
scary, confusing and overwhelming. When it comes to divorce, the legal
system by its very nature is adversarial, pitting people against each
other with the promise of only one winner and with no room for compromise.
I say, “If you were once in love, able to organize your lives and
build a life together, you should be able to discuss and organize your
lives to dissolve your marriage and to live apart.”
I often explain to spouses that with mediation there are no losers; everyone
is a winner. Mediation offers the opportunity to see your divorce and
your spouse through a different lens.
As individuals go through the process of separation and divorce, it would
be unnatural if people did not have feelings. Husbands and wives may feel
hurt, angry, disappointed, scared, insulted and/or abused. As a result,
divorcing individuals frequently do the following things, which raise
the stakes and often cannot be undone:
- Take all of the money out of joint savings, checking and investment accounts;
- Change the locks on the marital residence;
- Prevent their spouse from seeing the children;
- Stop paying household bills;
- Cut off access to credit cards or abuse them to run up debt;
- Turn off the family phone plan;
- Insult each other;
- Threaten a spouse, saying things such as, "I will take the children
away from you," and “I will not give you any money.”
I cannot emphasize enough how many divorcing couples have either done these
things or tell me they are planning to do them. Spouses do these things
out of anger or fear, to protect themselves from what they anticipate
the other will do. They also do it for revenge.
At a first consultation, I discuss strategy with clients to determine what
steps they should take and should not take to protect themselves so they
make choices based on logic, not emotion. Poor choices can be used against
you or end up in court when it could have been reasonably avoided without
For example, if a spouse prevents the other from seeing their children,
you can be almost certain someone will start a lawsuit and get a judge
to order visitation. If someone stops paying the bills, the other spouse
will go to court to obtain an order of support. These actions ensure that
the case will be litigated, that each will pay a large retainer to separate
attorneys, and that a judge will make decisions and orders neither party may like.
When I meet with a new client, I explain the likely parameters of what
will happen if he or she goes to court and does not negotiate a settlement.
In New York, there are guidelines regarding how much spousal support and
child support is normally paid. Why spend the family money just to get
what you would get without a court order? Don’t act out of anger
or revenge. Going to court is not the answer.
There are three ways to end a marriage: litigation, negotiation or mediation.
In any context, your personality traits and those of your spouse and what
you do, make a major contribution to the
outcome of your divorce. The way property is divided in a family is straightforward.
The same goes for child support amounts and spousal maintenance. There
are statutes and precedents in New York that make the outcome fairly predictable.
It does not really make sense for couples to roll the dice and fight in
court. They will get pretty much the same results in negotiating as if
they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers.
Rage and fear are normal feelings couples experience when they are going
through a divorce. However, the behavior and actions of divorcing individuals
can be modified and controlled. I provide couples with both the insight
and tools to manage their divorce in a more productive and positive way.
In addition, if a spouse is suffering from a personality or mood disorder,
I help identify features and elements of these problems and guide spouses
on how to respond in productive ways that will benefit them and their family.
Psychology affects human behavior. Examples include the sociopathic personality
of Hitler and how he changed the history of the world and the narcissism
of Napoleon and how that affected France and Europe. On a much less global
basis, we see how psychology and personality traits affect the process
and outcome of divorce.
The following are some of the personality disorders plaguing marriages today.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
People with narcissistic personality disorder exhibit a pervasive pattern
of grandiosity, a need for admiration and lack of empathy beginning in
early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by
five (or more) of the following:
- has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements
and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate
- is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance,
beauty, or ideal love;
- believes that he or she is "special" and “unique”
and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special
or high-status people;
- requires excessive admiration;
- has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially
favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations;
- is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve
his or her own ends;
- lacks empathy and is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings
and needs of others;
- is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her;
- shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
A. A pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of
others, occurring since age 18 years, as indicated by three or more of
- failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as
indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
- deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning
others for personal profit or pleasure;
- impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
- irritability and aggressiveness as indicated by repeated physical fights
- reckless disregard for the safety of self or others;
- consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain
consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
- lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing
having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another.
B. There is evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15.
C. The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the
course of schizophrenia or a manic episode.
Major Depressive Disorder
A. Depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities
for more than two weeks.
B. Mood represents a change from the person's baseline mood.
C. Impaired social, occupational and educational function.
D. Specific symptoms of which at least 5 present nearly every day:
- Depressed mood or irritable most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated
by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation
made by others (e.g., appears tearful).
- Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, most of each day.
- Significant weight change or change in appetite.
- Change in sleep such as insomnia or hypersomnia.
- Change in activity such as psychomotor agitation or retardation.
- Fatigue or loss of energy.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or more indecisiveness.
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or has suicide plan
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
A. Either obsessions or compulsions:
Obsessions as defined by (1), (2), (3), and (4):
- recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses or images that are experienced
at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and inappropriate and
that cause marked anxiety or distress;
- the thoughts, impulses or images are not simply excessive worries about
- the person attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, impulses or images
or to neutralize them with some other thought or action;
- the person recognizes that the obsessional thoughts, impulses or images
are a product of his or her own mind (not imposed from without as in thought
Compulsions as defined by (1) and (2):
- repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental
acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the person
feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules
that must be applied rigidly
- the behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress
or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors
or mental acts either are not connected in a realistic way with what they
are designed to neutralize or prevent or are clearly excessive
B. At some point during the course of the disorder, the person has recognized
that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable.
C. The obsessions or compulsions cause marked distress, are time-consuming
(take more than 1 hour a day) or significantly interfere with the person's
normal routine, occupational (or academic) functioning or usual social
activities or relationships.
Borderline Personality Disorder
The essential features of a personality disorder are impairments in personality
(self and interpersonal) functioning and the presence of pathological
personality traits. People with borderline personality disorder meet the
A. Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:
- Impairments in self-functioning (a or b):
- Identity: Markedly impoverished, poorly developed or unstable self-image,
often associated with excessive self-criticism; chronic feelings of emptiness;
dissociative states under stress.
- Self-direction: Instability in goals, aspirations, values or career plans and:
- Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):
- Empathy: Compromised ability to recognize the feelings and needs of others
associated with interpersonal hypersensitivity (i.e., prone to feel slighted
or insulted); perceptions of others selectively biased toward negative
attributes or vulnerabilities.
- Intimacy: Intense, unstable and conflicted close relationships marked by
mistrust, neediness and anxious preoccupation with real or imagined abandonment;
close relationships often viewed in extremes of idealization and devaluation
and alternating between over involvement and withdrawal.
B. Pathological personality traits in the following domains:
- Negative effectivity, characterized by:
- Emotional liability: Unstable emotional experiences and frequent mood changes;
emotions that are easily aroused, intense and/or out of proportion to
events and circumstances.
- Anxiousness: Intense feelings of nervousness, tenseness or panic, often
in reaction to interpersonal stresses; worry about the negative effects
of past unpleasant experiences and future negative possibilities; feeling
fearful, apprehensive or threatened by uncertainty; fears of falling apart
or losing control.
- Separation insecurity: Fears of rejection by—and/or separation from—significant
others, associated with fears of excessive dependency and complete loss
- Depressivity: Frequent feelings of being down, miserable and/or hopeless;
difficulty recovering from such moods; pessimism about the future; pervasive
shame; feeling of inferior self-worth; thoughts of suicide and suicidal behavior.
- Disinhibition characterized by:
- Impulsivity: Acting on the spur of the moment in response to immediate
stimuli; acting on a momentary basis without a plan or consideration of
outcomes; difficulty establishing or following plans; a sense of urgency
and self-harming behavior under emotional distress.
- Risk-taking: Engagement in dangerous, risky and potentially self-damaging
activities, unnecessarily and without regard to consequences; lack of
concern for one's limitations and denial of the reality of personal danger.
- Antagonism characterized by:
- Hostility: Persistent or frequent angry feelings; anger or irritability
in response to minor slights and insults.
Paranoid Personality Disorder
Paranoid personality disorder is marked by a pervasive distrust and suspiciousness
of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent. Paranoid
personality disorder begins in early adulthood and is present in a variety
of contexts, as indicated by four or more of the following:
- suspects without sufficient basis, that others are exploiting, harming
or deceiving him or her;
- is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness
of friends or associates;
- is reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the
information will be used maliciously against him or her;
- reads hidden demeaning or threatening meanings into benign remarks or events;
- persistently bears grudges, i.e., is unforgiving of insults, injuries or slights;
- perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent
to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack;
- has recurrent suspicions, without justification, regarding fidelity of
spouse or sexual partner.
Dependent Personality Disorder
A pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submissive
and clinging behavior and fears of separation, beginning by early adulthood
and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of
- has difficulty making everyday decisions without an excessive amount of
advice and reassurance from others.
- needs others to assume responsibility for most major areas of his or her life;
- has difficulty expressing disagreement with others because of fear of loss
of support or approval;
- has difficulty initiating projects or doing things on his or her own (because
of a lack of self-confidence in judgment or abilities rather than a lack
of motivation or energy);
- goes to excessive lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others
to the point of volunteering to do things that are unpleasant;
- feels uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of exaggerated fears
of being unable to care for himself or herself;
- urgently seeks another relationship as a source of care and support when
a close relationship ends;
- is unrealistically preoccupied with fears of being left to take care of
himself or herself.
As a divorce attorney and psychologically-trained mediator, I hear all
kinds of divorce stories. I have decided to share some of these stories
with you. Naturally, I have changed the names and some of the details
to protect the privacy of my clients. The purpose of sharing these divorce
stories with you is to let you know that you are not alone.
Mistakes Not to Make
My new client’s name was Andrea, a young mother of two children.
She had just found out that her husband was having an affair with her
“best” friend. Hurt and angry, she made every mistake in the
book starting at the beginning of her divorce.
She removed the entire $260,000 from the joint savings account with her
husband. Since he was out of the house temporarily, she refused to let
him see their children. She told him she was going to get sole custody
of their children, and she had gone on a shopping spree for expensive
items on their joint credit card. Her anger was normal under the circumstances.
However, her behavior was all but guaranteed to have the following results.
Her Husband would hire a lawyer who would immediately go to court to seek
- Return of the savings
- Custody and visitation with the children
- Credit for the expensive shopping spree
- She would spend, along with her Husband, over $150,000 of the family money
on lawyers’ fees.
When she came to me for a consultation, I explained why she should return
half of the money to their joint account and let her husband see the children
so that he wasn’t pushed into seeking custody. The couple could
possibly work in mediation to obtain a divorce together. In changing her
approach and behavior towards her husband, Andrea was able to act in a
non self-destructive way and avoid a protracted adversarial process. She
could deal with her anger in therapy instead. The use of psychology in
this case had a positive effect on the outcome for all involved.
Case Example of Sociopath
Jill and Frank were married for 14 years. He was a successful builder and
owned a garden center. She taught in the local public school. They had
one child, Suzanne, aged 9. They lived in a New York suburb in a house
that was being constructed by Frank’s company.
When Jill discovered that her Husband was having an affair with the babysitter
and using cocaine, she decided to end her marriage. She announced to Frank
that she wanted sole custody of their daughter.
Frank’s response was to stop construction on the house, leaving Jill
with a hole in the roof, a wet floor when it rained and a kitchen that
was not usable and still had to be completed. He moved into a house down
the block that he had built for his mother.
The morning after her Husband moved out, Jill went to drive their daughter
to school and her car wouldn’t start. She noticed that the gas gauge
was on empty. Since she had filled the tank the day before, she realized
that her Husband must have drained the gas tank by siphoning off the gas.
Frank then showed up and took their daughter to school on his motorcycle
without her helmet, against Jill’s wishes. After school, he picked
up Suzanne and took her to the house where he was living instead of returning
her to her mother.
Helping Jill as her attorney required an understanding that her husband
was a sociopath. He had no sense of responsibility or guilt.
One tool for Jill was to keep Frank ignorant about what she wanted (custody
and the house). If she told him, she would lose her leverage and he would
sadistically manipulate her and their daughter. So instead, Jill told
Frank that he could have custody of their daughter because she was going
back to school. Jill also managed to obtain her Husband’s business
records that he had left in the house. The records showed that he was
hiding a large cash income and that his business was worth a lot more
than he stated on his tax returns.
Frank did not really want his daughter living with him, as it would encroach
on his lifestyle. When the forensic accountant evaluated his business
and actual spending, Jill was able to prove that the value of his business
was far greater than he admitted. This allowed Jill to settle the case
on far more favorable terms than she would have if she had played it straight
and followed her initial instincts.
Case Example of Depression
Ellen was married to Robert. Things seemed all right for several years.
Then Ellen noticed that her husband was sleeping late in the mornings.
He was sort of irritable and did not want to make plans with their friends.
When she wanted to talk, he walked into the other room. He often looked
glum and when she asked what was wrong, he said "nothing." After
while, Ellen felt that her husband was depressed and suggested that he
go to a therapist, which he refused to do.
This state of affairs continued and got more pronounced over the next couple
of years. Ellen felt as though she were living alone and finally suggested
a divorce. To her surprise, her husband did not object or seem to want
to discuss it. The consequences of untreated depression led to their divorce.
The marriage and his health might have been saved by medicine and therapeutic
intervention. Often, this does not take place because of denial by the
Case Example of Anxiety
Candy and Roger were married. After a while, Candy began to notice that
her husband was rather impatient. It bothered him when food accumulated
in the refrigerator or the lights were left on in the apartment. When
they left the house, he often had to go back in to check that the stove
was turned off. If she was not exactly on time for an appointment, he
got very angry. This behavior got worse to the point that it was intolerable.
When she complained Roger just yelled at her and told her she was too
demanding. After several years of this, Candy decided that she could not
live under these conditions and decided to end her marriage.
Roger suffered with untreated obsessive compulsive disorder, which can
often be helped with therapy and medication. But Roger refused both and
the result was the end of their marriage. Understanding his pathology
made it easier to deal with him in mediating a settlement that was favorable
for his wife.
Case Example of Sociopath and Narcissist
Dan quit his job and stayed home for three years while his wife, Elaine,
continued to work. Dan borrowed money from his pension, promising Elaine
he would put the money back, but he never did. He asked his wife for passwords
to their accounts so he could “organize” their finances. She
is afraid of what he might do if she gave them to him.
When she told me this, I could see the warning signs and told her that
she needed to serve him to prevent him from transferring money to deprive
her of her entitlement to property. She needed to protect herself from
his irresponsibility and prevent him from receiving spousal support for
his laziness. She is the victim of two character disorders for which her
husband refused to go for therapy. In going to court we were able to prove
that her husband was irresponsible about money and taking advantage of
her when he had a profession and could very well work and earn a living.
Case Example of Sociopath
Margaret described her husband of 18 years as "abusive and controlling."
He handled all the money and never let her see their assets or income.
He was in finance, and she was a teacher. When she tried to get information
from him, he was rude and dismissive, saying "you don't need
to know; I take care of everything."
When she came to me for help, I told her this was a pattern I see all too
often in marriages that are not working. I had to work with her behind
the scenes, along with a forensic accountant and private investigator,
to gather sufficient facts and information to formulate a picture of the
couple’s actual assets and income in order to protect Margaret’s
rights in the divorce proceeding.
Discovering what a client is entitled to in an impending divorce can be
an extensive process and needs to be performed by highly experienced professionals.
It requires an attorney with sophisticated knowledge of finance and the
tools to discover the truth. In this instance, we assembled an “A”
team and were able to get to the bottom of everything. Margaret received
her full share of the marital property she was entitled to as well as
spousal support and reimbursement of her legal fees.
Margaret’s case is typical of the type of issues encountered in cases
where one spouse is withholding vital information and hindering the other
spouse from obtaining the maximum desired outcome.
Do any of these stories sound like you? Have they gotten your attention?
Would you like to learn more about my highly successful psychologically
infused divorce mediation process?
If so, call me. I will answer all your questions 212.734.1551.