– And Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?

Divorce can bring out the nastiness in people. An understatement to be sure. It can be a mess. Greed, narcissism, and self-interest rise to the surface, causing irrational and excessive behaviour and placing emotional safety at risk. Squabbling, bickering, fighting, yelling, children, powerlessness, accusations and counter accusations, hatred, lies, police, social workers, neighbours, strangers – it’s a rotten and costly drama in every sense of the word.

William Congreve wrote The Morning Bride in 1697. The often misquoted line, “Heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned” came from that Stewart era play. He clearly knew a thing or two about love and anger. It would seem primal, if not logical, that love and hate are the opposing sides of an eternal coin… It’s always difficult to navigate around the sharp rocks of’ ‘he did, she did’ accusations in a volatile mix of politics, fact and truth.

In a report that looked at anger from an evolutionary perspective, Daniel M.T. Fessler reviewed over 130 research reports and found what many of us already knew – men and women get angry, and “Contrary to many folk models, research suggests that men and women do not reliably differ in the frequency or intensity of their experience of anger (if anything women may slightly exceed men in this regard).”  But the way the sexes express their anger is different…

Anger was defined as a transgression. Anger is elicited by a transgression against the actor, or those whom the actor holds dear, and the most common behavioural outcome of anger is an attempt to harm the aggressor. In toxic divorce situations it’s normal for both parties to feel their anger as justified. For the purpose of the anger study, a transgression is defined as the imposition of a cost on an actor which the actor does not pay willingly, where such unwillingness derives from the actors valuation of his own welfare relative to the other party’s welfare.

Fessler found that, “people recognize that angry individuals are often aware only of their desire to inflict costs on those who have endangered them – (the endangered feeling can be real or perceived), other considerations either fade from consciousness or else lose their motivational salience.” In the case of a toxic divorce, it is easy to see how children can become collateral damage. Either one or both parents use the children to inflict emotional pain on the opposing parent, at great emotional cost to everyone involved including the kids.

Men are more likely to approach the targets of their anger directly and more likely to physically aggress against them. Women are more likely to seek the aid of allies and to engage in indirect aggression through the manipulation of social relationships and attempts to inflict reputational damage. Take for instance an actual situation from one long-running toxic divorce case, “I have a business that’s starting to fail now because of my wife’s calling people, actively going to my kids schools. She went to both my kids schools. All my neighbours. She told every [one], all these people this horrible stuff to, to ruin my business, and then she puts her hand out for child support, which isn’t there, an[d] I said, how do I make it stop?” And further, “They have allowed [his wife] to ruin my life, my career choice, my relationship with my children, my pension plans, my house, my credit, etc.”

Fessler found that, “In response to transgression, women adopt low-risk strategies that rely on political tactics: compared to men, when angry, women are more likely to cry, a signal that serves to recruit aid from allies, they are more likely to turn to others for support and are more likely to harm the target of their anger through gossip and alliance manipulation.”

In a classic case of ‘textbook perfect’ behaviour it was noted by Fessler that, “Morally outraged men can expect to be more risk-prone than their female counterparts.” Given that men tend to strike directly at who they perceive to be the target of their anger, they risk physical harm to their target, themselves, incarceration, the loss of visitation rights, and/or custody of children. The ‘genetic default’ in men’s anger in domestic situations is as obvious as a bruise on the face. The police, by default – arrest the male in that situation, regardless of weather or not the actual assault took place, an accusation by a woman is often enough.

Whereas ‘genetic default’ for women is not physical, but ‘political’ in the form of slander. The police never take any action against that type of female aggression, because it is not an arrestable crime, it’s not an offence with a sentence fixed by law. It is a civil issue, not a criminal one. Slanderous or libelous aggression has to be pursued in court. The afflicted party must sue in Supreme court. And you have to sue within 2 years of of the defamation.

 

A New York Post article from 2010 reported that, “A Long Island, New York woman is facing jail time for deliberately turning her two teenage daughters against their dad over a period of several years, telling them that their father was a “deadbeat,” “loser,” and “scumbag.”

But what seemed to set the judge presiding over the multi-year case through the roof was the the false allegations of sexual misconduct by Lauren Lippe (Mom) lodged against ex-spouse Ted Rubin. Lippe later recanted, admitting she knew her former husband had not fondled their daughter’s breasts as she had alleged, but it was too late to avoid the wrath of the legal system. Describing the Lippe’s multi-year crusade against her ex-husband as “willful and calculated,” the judge presiding over this miserable case sentenced Lippe last week to spend six weekends in [jail]”

According to the legal blog of the Toronto law firm Mills & Mills, a recent BC incident was resolved where the person was found guilty of libel. “In this case, the father used the internet and Facebok [sic] to publicly disparage his child’s mother. He was ordered to pay her $40,000 for defamation and invasion of privacy. The amount was made up of special legal costs in addition to damages.

The decision is thought to be unique and there are not many of its kind. In fact, there does not appear to be any other social media defamation cases of family members in Canadian judgments.

The case is a warning to parents and ex-spouses who are tempted to publicly defame each other online. It is also a good lesson for family lawyers, who may want to emphasize to some clients that their comments on social networking sites are not private and can come back to them in court. Clients need to realize that anything they write in an email, post on facebook, or other social networking sites can later be used against them in litigation.”