When people come to realize they made a mistake, admitting the error to the person wronged can help relieve the pressing guilt that builds over time. It is also the first step in repairing broken trust and can pave the way for future productive communication; however, even apologies made under the best intentions can come back to haunt you in a divorce.
Psychotherapist and Mediator Betsy Ross recently wrote about the benefits of apologizing to help set the groundwork for constructive communication in settling mediation disputes.
According to Ross, “an apology, the genuine article, can promote dialogue, decrease emotional distance and even help to re-establish trust. At its very best, it is a healing gesture and a symbol of willingness to take responsibility for misbehavior and to own up to being human.”
In her primary example, a couple was unable to even begin discussions of value until the husband spontaneously offered “an acknowledgement of the wrong doing, a validation of the pain and suffering the misbehavior had caused (to his wife and children) and a promise to make things right.”
While a sincere apology may have solved the dilemma in that particular situation, be warned that apologies may not always work out as intended when it comes to standing in front of a judge. Divorce attorneys warn of the possible ramifications of good-intentioned apologies if they later come up in court.
According to Dadsdivorce.com, “admissions are a party’s out-of-court statements or assertive conduct, and they are non-hearsay if one party offers them against the other party. In other words, defendant husband’s statement is not hearsay if plaintiff wife offers it against him.”
It is possible for the heart-felt apology that you thought would help smooth the waters between you and your spouse to come back and bite. If your wife or her lawyer bring it up as evidence against your case in court, depending on what you said, it can weigh significantly against you.
For example, if you had an affair and the guilt built to the point where you felt the need to confess everything that happened and apologize profusely for your mistake, you may have just given her side the ammunition they need to swing issues such as custody, spousal maintenance, property division or any other disputed matter much farther into their favor.
To alleviate a guilty conscience, first seek other confidential methods, such as speaking with a psychologist in therapy or utilizing your local clergy. If that just won’t suffice and you feel an upfront apology to your spouse is necessary, careful wording can help keep you out of trouble.
Avoiding direct admission of what you did will help keep your apology from being used as evidence: Don’t say you are sorry for cheating; apologize for your lack of judgment.
However, you do run the risk of coming off as insincere, which can cause even greater problems. Ross writes that insincere apologies are frequently used as a means of manipulation, and can “wreak havoc on divorce negotiations and damage already fragile relationships.”
It all comes down to whether you believe an apology is needed, and if so, whether it will truly help or possibly hinder your case. Be sure to consult with your attorney before making any statements to your spouse that may wind up being used against you in court — that way, your lawyer can prepare for the worst and also help you phrase the apology so it has a lesser impact on the case while still emphasizing your remorse.
Situations where a truly sincere apology for a past mistake ends up hurting more than helping may be hard to conceive, but in the war zone that divorce can frequently become, care is of the utmost necessity.
Anything you do or say may be used against you — regardless of intent.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”