Individuals starting the divorce process often have problems trusting each other. Sometimes the trust that existed during the marriage was violated by infidelity. Sometimes, trust is eroded due to lack of communication that leads to one or both spouses misinterpreting words or actions. That misinterpretation can be perceived as deceit or “hiding something” even if there was no intent to deceive. In other situations, both parties still trust each other even though their marriage is ending.
How do you work in good faith to reach an agreement with your spouse when you are skeptical about what he or she tells you or when you just don’t believe anything he or she says? Is it possible? Yes. The first step is to get the facts about the situation so you don’t have to rely on information from a source you don’t necessarily believe. The second step is to make your decisions based on the cold, hard facts in front of you and not based on the emotions you feel. I recommend the same two steps for people who completely trust the information from the other person. By following this process, you eliminate the doubt and second-guessing that comes along with mistrust.
Step 1 – Get the facts. There are lots of ways to get information. My favorite way is by asking directly for it. I make a list of information I’d like and give it to the other person. It doesn’t need to be complicated, drawn-out, combative or expensive. Most of the time, it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. If the other person is unwilling or unable to provide the information, I’ll use a different method. If he or she simply refuses to provide it, I can either get it from a different source or use another method to give the other person an incentive to provide it. That may mean issuing subpoenas to outside sources for the information or using the court process to make it clear to the other person that it’s important for him or her to provide the information and in his or her best interest to do so.
Many people assume (especially if they are having problems trusting the other person) that if it’s more difficult to get information from someone than we believe it should be, then they must be hiding something. In my experience, that’s sometimes true, but not always. Often, the person is disorganized, uninterested or just doesn’t realize how important the information really is. I do my best not to make assumptions about why it may be difficult to get information and focus on how to most effectively and efficiently get it. In the long run, it doesn’t matter if the other person is being deliberately difficult or is just unorganized because I just want the information my client needs to make decisions.
Getting the facts sometimes requires patience and persistence – for both spouses. The person seeking information needs to have some patience and understand that everything probably won’t be immediately available or forthcoming. The person being asked for information needs to have some patience and understand that just because the facts look clear to him or her, that’s not necessarily the case for the other person.
Step 2 – Make decisions based on the facts. You have all the information. Now it’s time to use it and make informed decisions without worrying about whether you trust the other person or not. Trust doesn’t matter at this point. You may need someone to remind you where you are in the decision-making process, which is not a bad thing. Your attorney should be helping you focus on the decisions you need to make, not re-hashing the reasons for your original lack of trust. Divorce often involves a lack of trust, but that doesn’t need to send both parties on a collision course through the court system.