Some of the most common questions I get come from clients who have “harassing” former spouses. Their frequent questions: “How long do I have to put up with my former spouse? Why are they calling every day? Can I get them to stop? Will a judge to anything to help me?” And then their inevitable request: “Can I go to court and get a restraining order against my spouse?”
The frustration for the clients who come in with these questions and concerns are evident. They have dealt with months or even years of problematic behavior from their spouse. However, when I dig deeper into what the specific concerns are, I often come to the realization that both parties have played a role in creating a communication divide. The spouse who is constantly messaging or calling is not having her needs met. The spouse who is complaining about the calls is in a different emotional and mental state and is not having his needs met either. The irony is that while both complain about the other’s communication style, neither one of them have sat down with the other and had a conversation about how to communicate with each other.
The idea that going to court can solve this problem is truly magical thinking. Those of us who have practiced in the family courts know that court orders rarely enable better communication. The tools available to a judge are far more limited and far more blunt than what could be available to creative lawyers and clients at the settlement table.
Going to court to solve a communication problem is akin to asking a stranger use a stick to solve a complex problem. The outcome will be bruises to both parties but no real resolution to the problem. To be frank, it does not work. A restraining order does not improve communication. An order to communicate (if the court had the jurisdiction to make such an order in the first place) does not improve communication. An order to “behave” rarely leads to compliance. Those orders only ratchet up the conflict.
In my most recent encounter with a client who requested help on these issues, I advised him that I felt that the best course of action was to try to sit down with his spouse and speak about the problem directly. The next time she threatened to “tell her lawyer” about his transgressions, I challenged him to take up her invitation and ask her and her lawyer to participate in a settlement meeting focused on working out appropriate communication strategies. I know it is a bit radical, but I truly believe that the other option does not work. I look forward to seeing if my suggestions lead to some better results for both parties.