Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Difference Between a Good Argument and a Bad Argument

The Divorce Coach’s Corner--#2
The Difference Between a Good Argument and a Bad Argument

When most people think of divorce, they get an image in their head of two angry and upset people fighting with each other. It is true that in a divorce it is likely that at least one party has at some point said or done something to enrage the other. Indeed, divorcing parties often don’t see eye to eye. They argue over money (or the lack thereof), the division of assets and liabilities, how to parent and share time with the children, and countless other issues. With so much to argue about, how can a divorcing couple possibly be expected to resolve their differences amicably?

The answer is simple: Go ahead and have an argument. Just make it a good one.

What makes a “good” argument as opposed to a “bad” argument? I found an answer one Sunday when I came in early to my daughter’s 2nd grade Hebrew school class. Written on the board was an explanation of the difference between a “good” argument and a “bad” argument. It went something like this: When people argue by taking turns respectfully listening to each other explain their different points of view and what they perceive to be true for them, that is a good argument, or what the rabbis of yore called “an argument from heaven.” This means no name-calling, no accusing, no dwelling on past hurts and sleights. In a good argument, when all is said and done, the parties have actually learned something from each other. They understand each other better and feel heard by the other person, even if they still don’t necessarily agree with each other, at least they can find some common ground or a resolution they can both live with.

When two people argue by calling names, making accusations and not listening to the other side; when they focus on trying to hurt each other with jibs and jabs; when they are more concerned with making their spouse “pay” for the pain they feel that the other person has caused them, instead of what would be the most fair and equitable resolution for everyone concerned, that is a bad argument or what the rabbis called, “an argument not from heaven.”

Processes such as mediation and collaboration provide safe forums for parties to express their needs, desires, concerns, fears--and even anger--through the use of good, healthy argument. Alternatively, the litigation of family matters in a courtroom easily lends itself to the use of bad arguments. When litigation is involved, people tend to get all caught up in their anger without an appropriate way to express it. Instead they focus on “getting” the other person or “punishing” their spouse by “beating” him or her in court and “winning.” But in such a situation, no one really wins, and even when they win, they still lose. One side might get his or her way but only at the extreme emotional and financial cost to both the parties and their children. No one ever came out of litigation feeling like they had improved their relationship with their ex-spouse. Most people come out of litigation feeling spent and oftentimes even angrier and more hurt than before.

Litigation of family matters erodes the possibility of the all too important post-divorce parenting relationship. Even for parties without young children, the litigated divorce does not provide closure. The mediated or collaborated divorce on the other hand, does just that, and at a fraction of the legal fees of the litigated divorce.

When people choose to dissolve their marriage outside of the courtroom, they empower themselves to make their own decisions about their future. It benefits society as a whole when families can work out their own differences outside of the court system. Excessive fighting not only destroys families, it also clogs up the courts and prevents the truly irresolvable matters from getting the attention they deserve.

So go ahead and have an argument. Just make sure it is a “good” one and if you find yourself or your client in the unfortunate position of needing to dissolve a marriage, explore how mediation or collaboration can at least make this most stressful of life experiences a more positive and productive one.

Brooke Deratany Goldfarb, Esq., Harvard Law, JD, is a mediator and collaborative family lawyer in Indialantic, Florida at Peaceful Beach Mediation and Collaboration ( She can be reached at (321) 626-2858 or

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