The Truth to Common Divorce Rumors

By Jennifer M. Painedivorce truths

Attorney, Cordell & Cordell

Note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series on the truth to common divorce rumors. Part 2 examines “You Can Get Him for Abandonment” and Part 3 looked at “She’ll Get Half of Everything.”

When people find out you’re in the midst of a divorce, suddenly everyone and their brother has a story to share.

We’ve all heard them – the nice guy who let his wife get all she wanted (and paid his lawyer an awful lot to get there, too), the dad who works three jobs just to support his kids (and odd jobs on the weekends), the angry ex who took half of everything (including the ice cube trays and one and one-half Wise Men from the nativity set).

And the cousin whose friend who’s an attorney said to do X.

And the friend who has a brother-in-law whose college roommate’s dad went through divorce and lost everything…and so forth.

Yes, we’ve all heard these lies particularly men going through a divorce.

I write “lies” because they are filled with few facts and mostly fiction, like characters on the stage of some great divorce charade. But they are easily remembered, and startling, because (1) your family members describe them to you with such concern and sincerity that you believe them and/or (2) there is always some friend who, feigning concern, can Google a court opinion and hold it up before your as the definitive law on the subject and/or (3) in the whirlwind of divorce, where everything right down to the words from your attorney’s mouth is new, they are just another crazy-new thing, not too far from reality to believe.

But they are. Lest they confuse you, here is the truth to those lies your family told you.


“Nice Guys Finish Last”

Nope. Mr. Waugh from Connecticut learned this lesson too late. Every witness at his trial gave examples of his and his wife’s confrontations in and out of their son’s presence. They glared at each other. They ridiculed each other. They yelled at each other. They could not stand to be near each other. They were the fight-to-the-end/get-a-pit bull-lawyer type.

To support his request for physical custody, Mr. Waugh argued the divorce court should hold his wife in contempt for bringing his son to parenting time three hours tardy one afternoon. The court did hold her in contempt – but that barely made a dent in the case.

She was the proactive parent — she visited at daycare, arranged doctors’ appointments, and, overall, made a real effort to allay her anger for the little boy’s sake. And Mr. Waugh? He was the fight-it-out parent who looked unfriendly in court. Waugh v Waugh, 2003 Conn Super LEXIS 1028 (Super Ct April 17, 2003)

Is there a “nice guys finish first” factor? Yes. In Michigan, it is factor (j) in the twelve-factor “best interests of the child” statute, MCL 722.23.

This factor has the divorce court determine which parent encourages the child’s relationship with the other parent. Family lawyers call it by various names — “the friendly parent factor” or “the cooperation factor” or “the willingness factor,” etc., but what it means is, the friendlier the parent, the more favorable the outcome.

Most of the time. Be too giving, and you will remind your judge of a push-over or, worse, a disinterested parent. Your parental rights are constitutional rights of the highest magnitude, and no government can intrude upon your decisions without utmost scrutiny.

This means the judge cannot force you to do X merely because your spouse wants to do X, unless doing X is in your child’s best interests. So, if you disagree with your spouse on X, speak up! Show that you are interested in your child, and explain why. (Nicely. Bite your tongue. Avoid shouting matches.)

Show that not doing X is in your child’s best interests. After all, the “nice guys” factor is but one of the factors the judge will consider.

The trick is to be forceful when need be, and nicest always.


Note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series on the truth to common divorce rumors. Part 2 examines “You Can Get Him for Abandonment” and Part 3 looked at “She’ll Get Half of Everything.”


Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

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