Mutually Assured Divorce Destruction

by Annette Burns on August 16, 2013

In college I studied Soviet-American relations, as they were a big deal back then (1978-1981). Foreign, Soviet and national security policies were on everyone’s mind, and we studied the SALT talks, missile silos, second-strike capability, nuclear weapons (they weren’t then known as WMDs), and the acronyms were everywhere: SALT II, ICBMs, SAMs and MIRVs.  Most of this doesn’t have much application today, but one SALT-era acronym comes up often in family law practice: MAD.

MAD was (is) Mutually Assured Destruction. From the distant memory of a non-expert, this meant that if the Soviets pressed the button and fired their nuclear weapons towards the US, we’d have enough notice to press our own button and fire ours back at them. So while we may or may not be able to withstand their attack, we could at least assure they’d suffer the same fate. Things would escalate on both sides, and the end result was — MAD.

MAD is the end result of many divorces. One side decides to throw every possible litigation tactic and the maximum amount of litigation dollars at the other. The reason doesn’t matter. It could be fear, anger, a sense of entitlement, mental illness or family pressure. The other side has choices, and often the choice is to retaliate in kind. Similar money and litigation tactics are thrown back. Motions abound; hearings are scheduled; threatening letters are sent. Most of all, MONEY IS SPENT.   Once the first few shots are fired by one side, it’s not terribly surprising when the other side presses all the buttons to make sure the originator suffers the same fate.

It’s rare in family law that only one side eventually surrenders; the usual result is not so much a surrender as mutual exhaustion and depletion of resources.  All the money is gone; the children are in therapy; the credit lines are maxed out. That’s the divorce equivalent of a nuclear attack.

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