What are the first steps you should take?
Oftentimes, when clients come to my office seeking a divorce, they have already committed to the idea that they and their partners are going to be splitting up. They already flew through days (even years) filled with fights and tears, rode the waves of resentment and traveled down the marriage counseling pathway. At the end of their journey, my clients, and sometimes their partners, acknowledge that this marriage has now come to an end.
Many of my clients are very upfront about the feelings of sorrow, resentment – and sometimes guilt. Love and trust have a lot to do with sustaining a marriage.
But really, marriage is the ability to come together over and over again. When you and your spouse cannot come together, that is when it is time to divorce. And that is ok.
Know that marriage is hard. Marriage with children, especially little ones, is hard. No marriage is perfect, and it is ok to acknowledge that your relationship just ran its course without assigning blame. Yet it is important to note that if you are in a relationship with an abusive spouse, do not hesitate to leave.
But unless you are J. Lo and have been divorced countless times, you are likely in the dark about how the divorce process works. You may have heard horror stories on social media or through your own circles of friends. The uncertainty is anxiety inducing. No matter what your situation is, know that there are resources out there to help you. . Know that there are ways to make this process a peaceful one. Know that there are ways to navigate through divorce in such a way that will leave you in a better place, giving you the energy to commit to a new expression of your relationship with your soon- to- be former spouse. You are not alone. With that said, we will explore the first steps that you need to take once you have made the decision to get a divorce.
The first step is to find a divorce process that compatible with your goals.
It’s incredibly helpful to take some time to write out what you ideally want to walk away from your marriage with. How do you, ideally, want to live your life post-divorce? Most importantly, how will you know that the outcome to the process was a successful one? Try to focus on the big picture without assigning any blame. Remember that no one “wins” in divorce. If you have children, remember that your conduct and decisions will affect them for years to come. Review what you wrote and revisit these notes that you made to yourself. It will be especially helpful in maintaining a positive perspective going forward.
Litigation, which involves the court’s involvement in making decisions for your children and the division of marital assets, can be incredibly expensive and time-consuming. Our court system is not a suitable venue to resolve family disputes. Know that your marital history, the skeletons in the closet topics, are aired out on public record, exposing the pain and wounding those involved. The feelings of anger and resentment that linger after court hearing can seriously impair the co-parenting relationship after the divorce is over. Furthermore, the court may make decisions that affect your family for the long term with little knowledge of your family history or dynamic.
The Collaborative Divorce path ushers my clients into the next stage of their relationship in a much more dignified way. Unlike litigation, the approach is not adversarial, and is more team-oriented. The parties have attorneys who are trained in the Collaborative Law process. The sessions also involve other Collaborative Law experts from other disciplines, working as neutral professionals together with the attorneys to create a sustainable solution for the parties. The mental health professional gently guides the team through the process while keeping into mind the values, emotions and interests of the parties. The financial professional contributes to building a lasting financial remedy, which includes crafting budget forecasts for the divorcing couple.
There are also hybrid approaches that involve both mediation and negotiation between the parties through their respective attorneys, as well as litigation. You should consult with an experienced, licensed family law attorney who can fully explain all the options available.
Also retain a family law attorney who is committed to your goals.
Research online, contact your local Bar association and talk to family as well as friends for a trusted referral. Most of my clients are looking an attorney to readily identify and elevate the issues, as well as get them to a place where they can start their new life with a clear mind. Be honest about whether you feel you like can trust that attorney. The family law attorney that you hire should advocate for your interests but should also be able to tell you what the reality is. He or she should be forthright about whether you goals are realistic and if not, offer an alternate option that is aligned with your interests.
With that said, have realistic expectations.
Please know that there will still be bad days. There will be times where you feel like you can speak freely to your spouse, and there will be moments when you feel like you can’t even be in the same room as that person. But as mentioned previously, keep in mind the goals you wrote down in the beginning as well as the big picture. Ask yourself whether your current actions and attitudes are helpful towards attaining those goals. Try as much as possible to see if your interests are motivated towards putting you (and your children) in a better place, or if they are born out of pain or anger from the marriage.
Find a way to navigate through this sea of emotions by finding a good therapist.
Earlier, I mentioned that you should retain an attorney who is committed to your goals. Likewise, find a therapist who is a good match for you. Rely on your intuition and pick a counselor you feel like you can trust and speak openly to without reservation. Likewise, lean on your support network- your tribe. Do not be afraid to ask family as well as friends for help and be kind to yourself. Self-care is key- even if it involves just five minutes to quiet time, alone in a room.
Keeping a positive perspective is so important in this process. But after almost a decade of practicing family law, one thing that I can say is that in the end, everything always works out the way that it is meant to. It is easy to feel alone and to have lost control. Yet by identifying your goals and interests early, finding emotional support, and selecting the process as well as a trusted attorney who is committed to helping you move out of the marriage and into a new phase of your life, it is possible to have a peaceful divorce. It may not be a fairy-tale, but you can indeed have a happy, sustainable “ever-after.”