The laws and public policy of South Carolina favor marriage and discourage divorce.

Many separated couples get along better after the separation. Others continue to fight. People who could not live together will have some problems, particularly if children or other circumstances require some contact.

The Golden Rule is always good law and good advice. Treat your spouse the way you would like for your spouse to treat you. Frequently ask yourself, "How would I react if my spouse did that?" From a moral viewpoint, you will feel better about yourself if you follow The Golden Rule. From a practical point of view, your spouse might become more reasonable and more willing to settle. Also, your exemplary conduct may impress the judge.

Do not spy on your spouse without your lawyer's specific instructions. You can get a private detective if you need one, but talk with your lawyer first. Never follow your spouse. Assume that a private detective follows you day and night documenting everything you say and do.

Do not fight with your spouse. If an argument starts, simply say, "I do not want to fight. I'll talk with you later." Then leave or hang up.

Treat your spouse with respect and politeness. Good manners are always appropriate. Do not gossip with friends or relatives who may quote or misquote you to your spouse. Whatever you say will probably get back to your spouse and create a problem. If you need advice, then re-read this book or talk with your lawyer.

I oppose the pick-up and delivery of children at neutral sites such as a shopping center or police station because it sends a bad message to the children that the parents cannot get along. I frequently remind clients that “He (or she) is the person you chose to be the father (or mother) of your children.” People who slept together and produced children should exchange those children without unpleasantness.

Never open your spouse's mail and never sign your spouse's name to a check or to anything else. The worst and dumbest combination is opening your spouse's income tax refund check and forging your spouse's signature on it. Talk to your lawyer if a particular situation arises that concerns you.

Never sign an arrest warrant or have your spouse arrested. A police officer, magistrate, clerk’s office employee, or a friend may advise you to have your spouse arrested. Do not do it. I have never known of a person that benefitted by having a spouse arrested. I witnessed several cases where signing an arrest warrant was an absolute disaster for the person signing the warrant.

Do nothing your spouse will interpret as mean, vicious, or vindictive. Do not have your spouse's electricity, water, or telephone service stopped without first talking with your lawyer. Likewise, do not cancel insurance coverage.

Never threaten your spouse. You do not want to get a reputation as a bluffer nor do you want to reveal your strategy.

Do not sell property or dispose of assets without the permission of your spouse, your lawyer, or the court.

Avoid the appearance of living in luxury. Do not make unnecessary major purchases. An appearance of lavish living irritates a separated spouse. Worse yet, judges and adverse attorneys see it as evidence of ability to pay alimony or child support or a lack of need for alimony or child support.

Joint bank accounts are a problem. If you leave money in the joint account, then your spouse may withdraw it. If you withdraw it, then you appear sneaky and underhanded. Probably the best compromise is to withdraw the money and open a new account in both names that requires both signatures for withdrawal. Then advise your spouse what you have done and explain that you are protecting the interests of each of you. Do nothing to cause a bank to return a spouse's check. If you are planning for a separation, establish separate accounts.

Behaving in an exemplary a manner is not a sign of weakness. As Teddy Roosevelt said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Many lawyers urge their clients to negotiate settlements with their spouses. I do not for five reasons. First, parties who can settle such issues are not likely to be divorcing. Second, no agreement binds either party until the family court approves and adopts it. Frequently parties agree to provisions no judge will approve. Third, good lawyers advise clients to repudiate harsh, ill-advised, or unfavorable provisions before the family court approves them. Fourth, negotiations by the parties undermine the position and authority of their lawyers, making settlement difficult or impossible. Fifth, some of the most expensive cases in which I have been involved are where the parties attempt to negotiate their own settlements and only succeed at prolonging the case and increasing the expense. An exception exists where the lawyers ask the clients to negotiate a particular point, most often the division of household goods and furnishings.

My Favorite War Stories #12:
Getting Arrested Can Be Good

It was a bitter divorce. The husband went to the wife's home one evening to goad and bait her into attacking him. She finally clawed his face until it looked like raw hamburger. He laughed at her and then went to the police station to get a warrant for assault. The wife called me from jail about 10:00 p.m. When the divorce case came before the court for a final hearing, the judge was outraged that the husband had the mother of his children arrested. This event was significant in that the wife eventually obtained a very favorable result. In addition, the magistrate dismissed the assault charges.