The Antidote to the Spiteful Litigant

We have all encountered the spiteful litigant. Maybe it’s the husband in a divorce who says that he is going to Las Vegas and putting the marital estate on red or black at the roulette wheel. If he wins he will split it with his ex; if he loses, neither of them get anything. Or perhaps it’s a partner in a dispute that says that he would rather the business fail then have to share its value with his soon to be ex-partner; or a litigant that states that he would rather drive the defendant into bankruptcy even if it means that he would not recover for his injuries.

How does one deal with spite in the context of a mediation? Recent scientific studies of spite provide the answer. Spite is defined as the urge to punish, hurt or humiliate another, even when one gains no obvious benefit and may well pay the cost. New research summarized in a recent New York Times article concludes that spite is both a vice and a virtue that may be linked. Not surprisingly, in one survey conducted by David K. Marcus, a psychologist at Washington State University, spitefulness generally cohabited with traits like callousness, Machiavellianism and poor self-esteem.  Spite is not associated with agreeableness, conscientiousness or guilt.