'The Karma Effect': Before, during and after divorce

The cases Wolfner describes feels like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

DONALD TRUMP JR. and Vanessa Trump at a divorce court hearing in New York City in 2018. The book recounts countless stories from the perspective of a divorce lawyer.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
DONALD TRUMP JR. and Vanessa Trump at a divorce court hearing in New York City in 2018. The book recounts countless stories from the perspective of a divorce lawyer.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Karma Effect – A Divorce Lawyer’s Diary, written by Ruth Dayan Wolfner, a prominent Israeli lawyer who heads one of the largest family law offices in Israel, is a chronicle of some of the many divorce cases that she has handled throughout her extensive legal career.
“The decision to get divorced,” she writes, “is one of the most difficult decisions in life, and sometimes it takes years to make. One thing is certain. If you don’t want to get divorced, don’t threaten divorce.”
Wolfner depicts a wide range of spousal behavior that has threatened, and in many cases, led to the dissolution of marriages, including jealousy, obsessive-compulsive behavior, infidelity, insecurity and abuse – both physical and mental. The stories of the couples whom she profiles attest to the difficulties inherent in the divorce process, some of which are natural extensions of the decision to separate and others that occur during the divorce process itself.
READING WOLFNER’S description of these cases sometimes feels like watching a train wreck happening in slow motion. The sheer cruelty that husbands and wives exhibit toward one another – both during the marriage and as part of the divorce process – is staggering, and the volume of incidents that Wolfner lists seems to be part of a never-ending cycle of unhappy marriages.
Yet, as the author explains, there are times when couples can overcome their differences. Wolfner describes a case of a bitter, short-tempered housewife, unhappy with her position in life, who daily subjected her husband to a stream of verbal abuse upon his return home from work. The couple’s children assumed that most parents treated each other with the same contempt that her mother exhibited toward their father.
One day, their eldest daughter slept over at a friend’s home and reported to her mother that her friend’s parents actually liked each other and displayed affection toward one another. During her parents’ next fight, their daughter demanded that her mother stop cursing her father. The mother responded, reports Wolfner, “You’re just like your father. Go to your room.” That unkind remark convinced the husband that a divorce was necessary.
Initially, he refused his wife’s requests to reconsider. Still, at the negotiating meeting between the wife’s lawyer and Wolfner, who represented the husband, the wife burst out in tears, admitted that she had belittled her husband out of insecurity, apologized for her actions and begged him to reconsider. The couple never returned to the divorce negotiating table, survived and saved their marriage. The husband credited the threat of divorce with his wife’s promise to change her behavior.
ON THE other hand, the author describes another unhappy marriage, in which a neglectful wife despised her husband’s kind and gentle nature. The husband continued to adore his wife, despite her mistreatment of him. He eventually was drawn to another woman, and when his wife found out and begged him for forgiveness, he refused and the marriage ended.
“To preserve a relationship, avoid neglect – self-neglect, neglecting the marriage, and neglecting the relationship,” counsels Wolfner.
The author depicts spouses who are polite, well-mannered and respectful at work and in their other relationships but who act in unkind ways to their partners behind closed doors.
“If you think everything is allowed, that your partner will never leave you, and allow yourself to act at home in ways you would never behave anywhere else – you are probably single-handedly making your family miserable,” she writes.
Wolfner describes how parents frequently use their children as ammunition in their divorce proceedings, causing extensive damage to the children themselves and misery to the entire family. She writes of one couple that had divorced, and the father – who was not only stingy with compliments, but was also notoriously tight-fisted – refused to pay for his youngest son’s treatment for attention deficit disorder, his middle son’s orthodontic treatment, and his eldest son’s math tutor. The judge granted the mother exclusive authority to make decisions concerning the children, and the father was required to pay much higher child support payments than he had proposed during the negotiations.
Wolfner explains that divorce lawyers need to know the intricacies of the law, including child custody, visitation rights and property distribution, and the advantages and disadvantages of taking a case to Family Court or Rabbinical Court. Additionally, she writes, in order to win, lawyers need to anticipate several moves in advance and plan ahead.
SOMETIMES, WOLFNER notes, it is wiser to pay a higher price in a divorce settlement to minimize and avoid an outcome that may have a higher potential for risk. She recounts a case of an Israeli man who met an Australian woman in Nepal, married and moved to Israel. The couple had two children, but the marriage ended. The woman threatened to move back to Australia with their daughters unless she received a significant financial settlement, including their apartment, car and a substantial sum of money. At first, the husband was unwilling to consider the exorbitant settlement terms, but Wolfner suggested that the cost was worth paying due to the fear that he would fail in his battle and his daughters would end up living in Australia.
Wolfner writes that it is advisable that couples that are divorcing reach a settlement as early as possible. A settlement is cheaper, leads to better relations between the couple and their children and allows for legal certainty. She advises couples not to sign a divorce agreement without receiving comprehensive legal counseling, even if the agreement was reached in a mediation process, and cites several cases from her own experience when her client had trusted the mediation process, and ended up in a difficult situation.
“Never sign a settlement agreement under pressure,” writes Wolfner, “and without fully understanding its implications, even at the cost of conducting legal proceedings.” Ultimately, a healthy separation process can lead to a new and more successful path for both partners.
Throughout the book, the author recounts the stories of hundreds of unhappy couples and recounts their flaws and foibles in great detail. In some cases, the threat of divorce has prompted couples to seek therapy and repair their marriage. In other cases, it was too late. Readers who have enjoyed marital bliss may find the book to be both entertaining in a voyeuristic way and a bit horrifying. Those who are in the throes of an unhappy marriage may find the book more realistic and true-to-life.
By Ruth Dayan Wolfner
273 pages; $13.90