Negotiating with a spouse who is a liar compounds the stress of dividing marital property and resolving custody and support issues in divorce mediation. Why the liar spouse chooses to deceive and the nature of those untruths are the focus here. More important, the post also addresses ways to respond to the dissembling spouse to achieve a favorable divorce mediation outcome.
Social science studies contend that most people utter one or two lies daily. Individuals may tell falsehoods to gain an advantageous negotiation position or to derail a process.
Consider the divorce mediation scenario of Andy and Becky. They have a 15-year marriage and a 13-year-old son, Chuck. Becky is a freelance graphic designer who works from home. Andy heads his own small software development company.
ANDY & BECKY’ S MEDIATION
Becky filed for divorce, alleging irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. She wants to live in the marital home with Chuck. She wants child support and alimony, along with joint legal and sole physical custody.
Andy initially opposed the break-up. He wants the marital home sold and favors joint legal and physical custody of Chuck. Becky resents Chuck’s aggressive, uncooperative behavior during the divorce mediation. She believes the company financial records Andy has been slow to provide are incomplete and inaccurate. Therefore, Andy, she believes, is a liar spouse trying to thwart the divorce mediation.
WHY ANDY LIES
The hypothetical highlights what can be an emotionally charged, high stakes divorce mediation setting. Andy wants to preserve his lifestyle. Because of this, he will lie about his company’s worth to protect his interests. Moreover, he will lie to influence the marital estate’s disposition and any alimony award. Vindictiveness motivates him to lie in the custody dispute. Ironically, the divorce mediation format allows a spouse to speak in confidence to the mediator without the other spouse present. Therefore, it actually may encourage the liar spouse to make deceptive remarks without fear of being unmasked.
One school of thought believes dishonest negotiations can be detected by observing a liar spouse’s body language. Like a poker player’s “tell,” a liar spouse’s slight hand gesture, a ruffling of papers, purportedly signals a false response. Still others focus on reactions of the spouse’s attorney to gauge whether a throat-clearing or other body movement might indicate discomfort with a client’s deceitful answers.
If Andy gives a halting response that seems untrue, it’s okay for Becky to confront him non-aggressively with a “You seem hesitant” remark.
LISTEN TO THE SPOUSE’S TESTIMONY
Social psychology studies reveal participants could identify whether someone was lying by observing them only a little more than half the time. Therefore, listening carefully to the liar spouse’s responses, rather than being distracted by the guesswork of the liar’s supposed visual cues, is the better course.
If Andy sidesteps a question, Becky should doggedly follow up until he answers. More important, Becky should prepare a list of questions to work from. Doing so will keep Andy focused and prevent her from being distracted by his deceptive answers.More important, she should take careful notes of what Andy says during mediation sessions and reduce his claims and promises to writing.
The optimal strategy for Becky to employ against Andy’s untruthfulness is to prepare for the divorce mediation. Because she is concerned that Andy is shielding company assets, she needs to do her homework. Becky must bring supporting documents to the divorce mediation. Income tax returns, IRA or 401K statements, credit card bills, and bank statements will back her up. Also, assembling mortgage and utility bills will allow Becky to derail Andy’s dissembling about the cost of maintaining the marital home.
Presenting financial records enables Becky to counter Andy’s misstatements about her household contributions. Also, she can challenge his claims about expenditures from the couple’s joint account.
In the hypothetical, Andy, like many liar spouses, will deceive the mediator about Becky’s parenting skills and behavior to advance his interests toward Chuck. Because of this, Becky’s response to lax parenting accusations must involve documentary evidence. Therefore, she must compile teacher reports, Chuck’s report cards and family therapist’s notes to defuse Andy’s charges.
In extreme cases, a liar spouse might falsely accuse the estranged spouse of having an affair. Alleging his soon-to-be ex-spouse is a substance abuser is another tactic Andy might resort to.
Becky needs to keep her temper and not rehash old arguments with Andy for the divorce mediator’s benefit. Instead, she can offer medical records to rebut false claims of a drinking or drug use problem. Regarding adultery, proving a negative is difficult. Therefore, Becky might prepare a list of lies she anticipates Andy might use against her at the mediation. Submitting the list to all parties beforehand negates the impact of the misstatements.
THE ATTORNEY’S ROLE
Experienced family law attorneys play an important role in a divorce mediation involving a dishonest spouse. In the hypothetical, Andy’s attorney might cater to his untruthful and stubborn client. The lawyer might encourage unreasonable demands, overstate the strength of Andy’s position or not be forthcoming in providing relevant information to the mediator. Although some of these tactics are permissible zealous advocacy, attorneys are bound by SJC Rules of Professional Conduct. The rules prohibit attorneys from making false statements of material fact and not disclosing material facts that may conceal a client’s fraudulent behavior.
An experienced family law attorney can assist Becky in many ways. The lawyer can help Becky keep her temper and shrug off Andy’s lies and insulting accusations. More important, the attorney has likely encountered liar spouses in previous cases. Together, Becky and her attorney can devise a strategy to handle Andy and work toward a resolution of issues in the mediation.
Are you looking for an experienced Newburyport or Andover divorce lawyer or family law attorney? If you have any questions about divorce, custody, or family law issues, you may schedule a free consultation with our experienced attorneys. Call (866)995-6663 during regular business hours and we will respond to your phone call promptly. Interested in learning more about mediation? Check out our article on handling the stubborn spouse in divorce mediation.