Divorce is never easy, but it does not have to ruin your life. There are many things that you can do to help make the process easier on you and your family.
As a divorce lawyer, I have helped countless individuals through the divorce process. Here are my top 7 tips on how to make your divorce as painless as possible.
Commit to Mutual Respect
In order for a divorce to be as painless as possible, each party needs to set aside who’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and focus on the cost-benefit analysis of the agreement. If both parties more or less respect each other — even if they don’t trust each other — then even the most complex asset and support case can be worked out in a cost-effective manner.
Ideally the parties will talk to a mediator and or their own consulting attorneys to make sure they’re covering everything and the terms are fair. These types of situations consider both parties’ needs and wants — and the kids’ — and work out a true compromise.
When getting a divorce, a good dose of mutual respect and compromise will allow both parties to maintain their privacy and escape their divorce with less drama.
List out Priorities
There is no such thing as a “winner” in a divorce. Each side will inevitably give up something in order to get what is most important to them.
List out your “must haves” and your “negotiables” at the beginning of your divorce and review them with your divorce lawyer. Listing out your priorities will help you to stay focused during your divorce on your actual needs, and not get caught in the weeds over who gets the TV or couch. Don’t waste your energy fighting over things that, in the grand scheme of things, do not matter.
Pick your battles, and be willing to let some things go.
Consider Mediation or a Collaborative Divorce
Mediation allows couples to settle their divorce out of court, keep a lot of personal matters out of the public record, and save a significant amount of time and money. It also tends to be much less stressful.
In mediation, the parties hire one lawyer who represents neither party, but helps to negotiate the terms of the divorce outside of court for the benefit of both parties. You can also mediate if one or both of you already has an attorney.
Sometimes, however, one or both parties have unreasonable expectations that need to be resolved in court. Even if you are not able to resolve everything in divorce mediation, mediation can help you resolve some of your issues, which then allows you to focus on (and not waste time and money on) the unresolved issues in court. A judge will then make a decision on those unresolved issues.
For additional information on divorce mediation in California, check out this great mediation guide created by DivorceNet.
Collaborative divorce can also work wonders for the right people. In collaborative divorce, each individual hires a divorce lawyer who assists them in negotiating the terms of the divorce. Each individual meets and counsels separately with their own lawyer and often a team of other experts in the areas of forensic accounting, mental health and child custody. The group then comes together and meets several times to work out the terms of agreement.
Both the lawyers and the spouses sign an agreement that they will not go to court. But, if for whatever reason, an agreement cannot be reached and the case has to go to court, the divorce attorneys will withdraw from the case and the parties must hire new divorce lawyers.
The couple does not need to agree on everything in order to pursue a collaborative divorce. They each however, need to have a commitment to collaboration and cooperation.
Don’t Put Your Kids in the Middle of the Mess
If you want your divorce to be as painless as possible for your children (and in turn you), one of the number one things you can do is to talk respectfully about and towards your ex. This does not mean you have to like them. It does mean, however, that you have to set aside some of your pride for the benefit of your child.
Whether you like it or not, your ex is your child’s parent. And unless there is abuse involved, your child is entitled to have a relationship with them. Don’t taint that relationship; it will only inflict more pain on your family.
What if your ex is not willing to meet in the middle and work together to respectfully co-parent your child? First, make sure to communicate to your kid that they are not the cause or the reason for your dispute with your ex. Use this as an opportunity to model healthy behavior and conflict resolution. And remember, in a custody battle, the court’s number one priority is the well being of the child. Courts do not look favorably on parents who attempt to use their children to get even with the other, or who try to put their children in the middle of the mess.
Go to Therapy
Divorce is a difficult and life changing transition. A therapist will help you to navigate this big change and the stress surrounding it. They will teach you healthy coping methods while also providing you an outlet to release stress.
Your children should not be your therapist (reasons for this should be obvious). Your friends and family, while they can be a major part of your support system, should not be your therapist. Why? After a difficult life event, some friends and family members do nothing but tell you what you want to hear. While this can be validating for you, it also can inhibit the healing process. A therapist offers something that your family and friends cannot, a true unattached third party perspective.
Want to save big money on your divorce? Don’t have your divorce lawyer function as your therapist either. Divorce lawyers charge by the hour, which equates to very expensive therapy. Vent to your therapist about your ex, not your divorce lawyer.
Gather & Organize Your Financial Information
One of the most stressful moments of a divorce? The scramble for vital financial information. Get ahead of the game by gathering and organizing your financial information in one place.
I recommend that my clients put together a binder, full of relevant paperwork and information.
What should you include in your binder?
- A list of your current assets + debts
- A recent copy of statements for each account
- Escrow paperwork for the house and any refi’s
- You & your spouse’s 401k/retirement balances
- A copy of each party’s year end pay stubs for the last tax year
- A copy of your last two years of tax returns
- A quick video walkthrough of the house and its contents (keep in a secure place on your computer, thumb drive or cloud)
A client armed with all of that vital information in one organized place is going to save a lot of money, expedite the divorce process, and avoid a lot of stress.
Find the Right Divorce Attorney
During your divorce, your attorney will be your advocate and negotiator. They will quite literally represent you and be pivotal in securing a fair outcome.
Don’t be afraid to speak to several divorce attorneys in your area to get a feel of their approaches to handling family law cases. If you are committed to making your divorce as pain free as possible, avoid the overly aggressive “pit bull” lawyer. These types of lawyers can take your case off the rails, set the wrong tone in negotiations, interfere with your settlement, and drive up legal fees. Pit Bull lawyers often make the divorce process drag on and can also make the process very uncomfortable for everyone involved (including the judge).
Successful settlements are built on a rigorous and intelligent cost-benefit analysis. If you want your divorce to be painless, find an attorney that is committed to helping you keep your divorce civil while also protecting your rights and interests.