In a marriage, each partner has the same value and importance. Spouses are equal under the law in New Jersey. That’s true when they arrive in divorce court, too. No one partner is more important, in the eyes of the judge, than the other. However, at times one partner will try to assert their dominance over the other. Power imbalances in a marriage can relate to education, earning power and other factors. Understanding the role a power imbalance can play in a divorce is very important.
Why power imbalances matter
Equality under the law is a foundational principle in American law. In practical terms, however, there can often be power imbalances in contractual relationships. That’s true even for marriage. Sometimes, during a divorce one spouse will use their status, money or cultural capital to bully their ex-partner.
One example of this is finances. If one partner stays at home with the children, they are financially dependent on the breadwinner. Sometimes, that breadwinner will use their control of the money as a way to bully and intimidate their partner.
Conversely, when one parent is much closer to the children, they might use that intimacy as a way to manipulate them. By inundating them with tales of the other parent’s bad behavior, they may seek to gain empathy and full custody.
Sometimes, partners can divorce amicably even when there is a power imbalance. Just because one person has more money or education, or spends more time with the kids, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll try to capitalize on that. But it happens enough that divorcing couples need to be aware of this issue going in.
Alternative divorce methods such as mediation can help ensure that everyone’s needs and concerns are heard. A neutral third party seeking consensus can often help couples arrive at a fair and equitable divorce agreement. Mediation can also take the wind out of the sails of people who are just looking for a fight. The adversarial nature of a trial divorce can be twisted and used as a means of bullying by some aggressive spouses.