Truth telling can hard at the best of times. During divorce sometimes revealing “new” news to your ex can feel like you are throwing yourself “into the bear pit”. Lying about a promotion (or non-promotion), a new relationship, a potential inheritance or spiralling credit card debt is so so tempting during divorce for a whole range of reasons (yep anger, revenge, stubbornness are all common motives).
So should you “tell the truth” to your ex during your divorce? Obviously everyone has a different ‘honesty’ barometer. And in divorce there are sometimes good reasons not to come clean. So, when providing divorce advice to our clients as to whether they should ‘admit the truth’ in their separation and divorce negotiations, we ask them some key questions:
1. Will you get found out anyway?
Is the secret is worth keeping? Will the truth eventually come out anyway?
Financial secrets, such as a secret bank account or an increase in salary, will usually be discovered as most States have court processes in place to ensure that these things can’t be hidden. Check with your lawyer upfront about what information should be legally provided to your ex before making any key decisions about what to say (or not say) about your finances.
Where the secret is a new relationship, consider whether it is likely that your ex will find out about the relationship anyway. Discovery of new relationships, especially if your new “special friend” has met your kids should be expected. For example, only last week one of my client’s found out about her ex’s new partner when her daughter showed her a photo of “daddy’s new girlfriend” on her iphone.
Whilst you may be able to control what you to say to your ex, you can’t control what others may say. I have lost count of the number of clients who have told me that they discovered their ex’s new partner via Facebook or Instagram, through their neighbour or her best friend!
Finally, it is worth asking yourself if your ex knows you so well that if you do not tell the truth they will know or suspect that you are ‘hiding something’ – and perhaps even assume a bigger different and more serious untruth?
In short, if you do believe that that there is a good chance that you will be found out, then it is probably worth you telling your ex the truth rather than letting them hear from someone else. This way, you will control your own message and be first to try to alleviate any damage that may stem from your revelation.
2. Will there be any legal, financial or parenting implications if you do “tell the truth”?
Always ask your lawyer whether the revelation of your secret would have any legal effects before deciding whether to tell the truth.
If you’ve moved in with, or plan to move in with a new partner, will they be considered by law to be a financial resource with respect to any asset split or claim for spousal maintenance? Or would it be considered grounds for divorce in the State in which you live? Will having a new partner impact your custody of your kids?
3. If you are negotiating your divorce settlement, will “not telling the ‘truth’” result in you feeling guilty or distract you such that you cannot focus on the bigger picture?
You want to hide your recent $10,000 inheritance from Aunty Betty. Will you expend too much energy trying to ensure that your next ‘financial’ meeting with your ex does not steer to the topic of potential inheritances? Is it worth the energy you are giving to protect the $10,000 when you should be concentrating on negotiating your share of the joint marital asset pool – which no doubt involves property in excess of the $10,000 inheritance?
Put simply, will your ability to focus on the main negotiation at hand be compromised because of your fixation on a secret side issue? If this the case, then the secret is probably not worth keeping.
4. Will your “hiding” of the truth have negative physical impacts on you?
Will you be unable to sleep, become ill, depressed or angry because you are not telling the truth to your ex? Our experience is that people whose key values include honesty and respect find that hiding important truths in divorce negotiations have debilitating effects on them physically and/or can make them more prone to depression, resentment or anger.
Without wanting to state the obvious, none of this is helpful to either their recovery from divorce or their ability to negotiate a good divorce settlement.
5. Will getting “found out” have irrevocable consequences for your divorce negotiations or your ongoing relationship?
If you do ‘get found out’ will this irrevocably and negatively impact upon your ex’s trust in you such that it will impact the negotiations disproportionately to the importance of the secret? So will hiding the fact that when you left you took his golf clubs and favourite cycling gear be worse if he finds out rather than you admitting it (and giving them back) rather than them finding out and the consequences thereafter!! I recently had had a client who went ballistic when he found out his wife had taken his golf clubs when she left him. It took a lot of time and advice for him to calm down and not use this as an “excuse” to vent his anger about everything else.
Alternatively, will telling the truth improve trust between the two of you leading to a more constructive relationship?
6. Is the key question really not “whether” to tell, but “when” and/or “how” to tell?
If you are oscillating between telling and not telling your truth, you may consider whether you would be more inclined to be honest in different circumstances. If this is the case, what are those circumstances (eg the mending of wounds through time, your ex finding love elsewhere or your ex feeling more secure about their financial future)? Would these different circumstances truly make a difference? Would your ex really be more likely to react better in the future to your revelation? Or not? If not, after considering all other potential impacts of the any revelation, it may be worth taking the weight off your shoulders and start to consider how and when to “tell”.
7. Is there any way to minimise the possible negative consequences of truth telling?
If, having considered all the above, you decide to reveal your truth but do not know how, try the old trick of putting yourself in your ex’s shoes. What would they want to hear or what reassurances are you able to give them that would take make your revelation easier to accept? Can you minimise any possible negative consequences?
For example, if you are advising your ex of a new partner, you may wish to reassure them that you will not be introducing them to the kids just yet but that you will let them know before you decide to do so.
Or if revealing what might be seen as a financial untruth, offer for you both to see your accountant together so that your ex can be assured that you are telling the truth and that the state of your financials are as you have said.
For what is worth, as Separation and Divorce Advisors, we do not like it when our client gives the other side a reason for them to take the high moral ground – unjustifiably. Our divorce advice – always always be careful about giving your ex a reason to distrust and be angry with you.
One final tip…
A recent study showed that it is helpful to apologise for something that is not your fault in order to build trust. If you are going to “be honest” we would implore you to consider whether you want to apologise for the hurt or confusion that you may be causing prior to going on to reveal your secret.
© Separation and Divorce Advisors Pty Ltd 2015