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When Your Friends or Family Divorce: How to Avoid the “Greek Chorus Effect”

There is no question that a divorce is likely to be one of the most difficult things that someone can endure.  Clients come in and they are afraid – of what is going to happen to them, or of what is going to happen to their children.    The future is unknown and the matrimonial process may appear slow, with settlement discussions and the discovery process frustrating.   I am often left dealing with not only a file0001383946990client’s concerns, questions and worries, but having to deal with well intentioned friends, family members and neighbors who want to help my client and offer advice, but really do not know what advice to give.   Sometimes a client’s family member, friend or new boyfriend/girlfriend will try to get directly involved in the divorce case.

A 2009 article by Sam Margulies in Psychology Today entitled “When Friends and Family Get Divorced” called such well meaning “advice” or meddling in a client’s divorce “The Greek Chorus Effect.”  The result of well-intentioned people who want to help loved ones or friends in need, however, can result in amping up the acrimony of a litigation by creating a sense of fear or panic in the divorcing person, who may then make unwise decisions or render them unable to reach a resolution of their case.  Therefore, if you know a person who is divorcing, how can you actually help them?

  1.  Suggest they get an attorney.   Having gone through your own divorce or knowing people who are divorced does not make you an expert or capable of advising someone as to what the law says on divorce, support or equitable distribution.   It is worthwhile to get legal advice early if you are concerned about the protection of a friend or loved one.
  2. Don’t mettle or interfere.   Have you heard the phrase, “Too many cooks spoil the broth?”.   Share your thoughts and concerns with your friend, but do not get too directly involved in the actual litigation.
  3. Offer your support.  Your divorcing friend or loved one is going through something very difficult.   He or she is going to need a good listener.   Be a shoulder shoulder to cry on.    Be someone that they can talk to and share their fears or feelings.  Be a sounding board.
  4. Remain optimistic.   Sometimes friends and family seem to go out of their way to scare those getting divorce, or to commiserate too much.  Be positive and remain optimistic that things will get better in the future and convey that to your loved one.
  5. Be a distraction.  Take your friend or loved one out when they seem down.   Go out to dinner.  Exercise with them. Take a walk in the park with them.  Go to a movie with them.  Do something fun to take their mind off things.
  6. Don’t fuel the fire.  Try to encourage peace and do not get in the middle of degrading or tearing down the other spouse.   This is especially important if your divorcing friend or loved one has children.  The children are likely to over hear what you are saying and be affected by it.  Also, parties who have children are going to continue to have some kind of relationship after the divorce, and will be attending important events involving their children forever.  You will not want to make such situations more awkward or uncomfortable for yourself, the children or the former spouses. In addition, friends and family members of a divorcing spouse tend to rally around that spouse, and they do not get to hear or consider the perspective of the other spouse.  Therefore, when you are “choosing sides” so to speak, you might not know or consider the whole story.

      In short, be supportive of the one you love and care for who is getting a divorce.   Take care of them.  Show them that you care for them.  Help them without making the situation more combative, sad or angry, and do not create or get dragged into the drama.  That is not what they need.  Don’t be a member of that “Greek Chorus”.