Manage Your Divorce Time Budget


 Time is a unique resource. Unlike other resources in your divorce budget, time is unique because it is the only resource you can’t renew. Money is renewable. Energy is renewable. But time is finite. And whether you are wealthy or poor, you only have 24 hours to spend in a day. However, even though all of us have the same set of minutes and hours to work with, we all have different relationships to time and value it differently.

Time becomes an item of value to trade in a divorce. This is where it gets interesting. Since most people value time differently, it becomes an item to trade in a divorce. Usually one person wants to move things faster than the other, and that can become a point of leverage for the other side.  Each person will either become more aggressive or more accommodating depending on their divorce goals and budgets. There are many versions of this, but here are the two extremes:

Aggressive:  I’ll make this so painful for you, you’ll hate every minute—and pay for it, too.

Accommodating: I just need to get this over with, whatever it costs me.

Time can become weaponized. Time is expensive in a divorce since lawyers bill by the hour. So if the opposing attorney knows you want a fast divorce and their client has the budget for protracted litigation, you may be in for a lengthy divorce over seemingly trivial issues. An aggressive opposing counsel can weaponize time by making what should be simple, difficult. Common tactics are:

  1. Push Pull. They behave in ways that lead you to believe that they are acting in good faith for a settlement, but then pull back when you are moving closer to a fair settlement.
  2. Waste Time. They waste your time on unimportant matters that they make seem important. For example, they put a stay-at-home mother through a three-day deposition on the issue of her earning capacity, even though she has been out of work for 20 years and never had a full-time job.
  3. Delay. They attempt to reschedule court conferences at the last minute. Come to court late. Won’t agree to a settlement agenda for settlement meetings. Come to settlement meetings late.

The antidote is patience and focus on your own theme. Easier said than done, but patience is the first skill you have to develop. And to do it well, you’ll need to readjust your expectations. People come to court believing that the Court wants to help them. Unless you have an emergency, the help you get from the Court will depend on the quality of your judge. Don’t expect that you’ll have a patient and wise judge with the time to help you through your divorce. Expect your judge to be busy putting out fires, with limited energy and attention for your case. The more difficult the other side gets, the more you need to double down on your theme, to increase the leverage on the other side to play fair.

Ignore attempts to increase the time budget.  To combat efforts to increase the time budget, you will have to learn to resist your urge to react to attempts to bait you. Realize that baiting you is a tactic the other side is using to make you more emotional. Even the most effective negotiators become beginners when their emotions rise. And it is fair to say that most people going through a divorce are not the most effective negotiators. So expect delays, and zigzags, and disrespectful behavior. You'll be that much calmer and more prepared.

Use the Red, Yellow, Green scale. Ask your attorney: On a scale of red, yellow, green, what happens if we do not respond to their tactics? Agree on a common language, based on stoplight colors. Green means continue onward and ignore them. Yellow means ride out the wave of energy that is making you want to react and wait until it dissipates (at least 24 hours in most cases extending to one week in certain situations) before you respond tactically. Red means respond immediately, for instance, if the other side attempts to sandbag you in court before the judge.


10-second summary:

  • Time is finite and can be used as a weapon in high-conflict divorces.
  • Counter that with patience and continual refocusing on divorce goals.
  • Create a common language with your attorney to learn how to manage time demands so you can stay your path—and get divorced without losing your mind.

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