Separating spouses can learn from the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie breakup, says Toronto-area family lawyer Reesa Heft.
“Making your marital issues public, involving your entire family and talking to your friends is not helpful,” Heft, principal of Heft Law, tells AdvocateDaily.com.
The public spectacle surrounding the Brangelina breakup is similar to “private people who air their laundry to their circle of friends,” Heft says.
Pitt recently opened up about the divorce in an interview with QC Magazine, pledging he’s “trying to get better,” CBC reports.
The Pitt-Jolie dispute is rarified, apparently stemming from an alleged incident between Pitt and one of his children on a flight.
“That sort of scenario, on a private plane, isn’t going to happen to your average person,” Heft says.
She says airing the issues could “exasperate the anger, no question, and it also gives people false expectations” in the divorce process.
“I can’t tell you how many times people have said, ‘Well, my friend is getting $4,500 a month support, how come I’m only getting $1,000?'” Heft says.
No matter what the cause of the split “it’s hard for people to divide their assets,” she says, adding sometimes the whole truth doesn’t come out in the gossip.
“When you’re talking to people about their own divorces, they do two things. One, they exaggerate immensely, which has an effect on how you view your situation,” Heft says. “Secondly, people lie.”
Heft says each case is unique, as are the factors considered in each family law matter.
“There are really only five main issues to deal with and the facts to settle those are unique in every case,” she says.
They include: custody and access; child support including Section 7 expenses; spousal support; equalization, which includes the matrimonial home; and division of property.
Allowing emotions to cloud the big picture could make proceedings more difficult and painful for the parties, or Heft says cause one side to capitulate and settle for less than what they are entitled to in an effort to end the turmoil and conflict.
She says she urges parties to use their “rational brain” to discuss the issues with their lawyers rather than their “emotional brain.”
“It’s a cycle,” Heft says. “They go from being angry, to OK, back to angry again. It can start off very intense and emotional, requiring a resolution on an interim basis.”
That can be followed by a period of tranquility, she says.
“There are clients I haven’t spoken to for a year because they found some sort of calm middle ground for now.”
Heft says depending on the circumstances, she often recommends joint family counseling, not so much to reconcile the marriage but so the parties learn to communicate in effective and respectful ways.
If children are involved, Heft says a therapist can be helpful in focusing angry or upset parents on the transition their children are going through during a separation or divorce. She says most people don’t have the emotional skills to deal with a tumultuous event like a divorce and they “make do.”
Divorce is often expensive and many couples don’t opt for therapy because it is seen as too pricey, she says.
“All of a sudden, half of what you had isn’t available anymore,” Heft says. “Plus on top of two parties paying legal fees, it’s a financial drain on any marriage, which means you might have to forego the cost of a therapy to pay your legal bills.
“People cope,” she says. Heft says a good support network could work in lieu of a professional, including a friend or family member who can provide a shoulder in tough times.
“People who do this by themselves without any sort of emotional net are in a very precarious position and it may lead them to make inappropriate decisions,” she says.