When a marriage ends, spouses and their children often face a perfect storm of stressful events: new living arrangements, parenting schedules, and of course, decisions about property and money. The emotions caused by these changes can make it difficult for spouses to understand the legal process of divorce, and may even impair their ability to make sound decisions. Getting through a divorce may be easier if you’re informed about the process before it begins. The following article provides a few tips to help guide you through this difficult time.
1. Don’t Expect to "Win" your Divorce Case
A lot of people start their divorce hoping to “beat” their spouse in court. In fact, there’s seldom a true winner in divorce. The typical divorce involves various issues, such as child custody, support, and the division of property. Rarely do divorcing spouses end up with everything they want. For example, one spouse might be awarded primary physical custody of the children, but may receive a much lower amount of spousal support than requested; it’s virtually impossible to tell the “winner” from the “loser” so trying to “win” is pointless.
Instead, consider the consequences of a full-blown court battle before you go down that path. In addition to the many thousands of dollars you’ll spend, your children may suffer the most in a heated divorce battle. After the dust has settled, you may soon forget who "won."
(Learn more about options for a civil divorce through Divorce Mediation).
2. Don’t Make Important Decisions without Thinking Them Through
Many life-changing decisions come up during a divorce. For example, you may have to determine whether to you need to sell the family home. Resist the impulse to make a quick decision just to get the case over with. When making important choices, it’s essential that you consider the potential consequences.
3. You’re Getting Divorced: Your Kids Aren’t
During a divorce, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the heat of the moment. However, saying cruel things to your spouse in the presence of your children can have a lasting effect. Psychological studies show that the more parents fight during a divorce, the more damaging the whole process is to the children.
Whenever you’re about to say something hurtful give yourself some time to think before you speak. A simple rule to follow is to count to ten before you answer a question or make a statement.
In addition, unless there’s a history of abuse or neglect, your children will continue to have a relationship with their other parent. No matter how upset you are with your spouse, you should not try to discourage or interfere with a healthy parent-child bond.
You may want to consider asking an experienced mental health professional to counsel your children about the divorce, and seek counseling for yourself as well, so you can learn how to address your children’s needs during this difficult process.
(Get informed on important issues of Children During Divorce).
4. Don’t Believe Everything Other People Tell You About Their Divorce
Your divorced friends may give you advice about what should happen in your divorce. Unfortunately, the information and advice you get from other people can be misleading or wrong.
Every divorce has a different set of issues. Your friends may believe what happened in their divorce is typical, but it’s best not to base your decisions on someone else’s experiences. Instead, rely on the advice you get from your attorney, mental health professionals, and financial consultants, all of whom are familiar with the specifics of your case.
5. Forget the Past. Prepare for the Future. Be a "Big Picture" Person
Obsessing about all of the bad things you feel were done by your spouse during your marriage will only prevent you from moving on with your life and making decisions that are in your family’s best interests. Try to forget the past and focus on the future. Approach the divorce with a willingness to work with your spouse to achieve the best possible result for your family.
You may get hung up on relatively insignificant matters, such as how to divide the DVD collection. Again, this may be because you or your spouse can’t let go of a past hurt. However, this approach will increase the time (and legal fees) it takes to complete your divorce. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Instead, try to be a “big-picture person.” Make some concessions on minor issues, and you can spend more time on important matters, such as when you get to see your children.
6. Court is Not All that it’s Cracked Up to Be
When things are not going well in a divorce case, one spouse may threaten to terminate negotiations and head to court. However, the road to a divorce trial is long and costly. The expense of a trial can deplete the very assets that are often the subject of the dispute. Even simple matters can require multiple court days to complete, and after spending many thousands of dollars, spouses and their attorneys are left with the total uncertainty of how a judge will rule.
7. Consider Alternatives to Court
Most people think all divorces end up in court. In fact, there are alternative ways to resolve divorce cases. One method is “mediation” in which a mediator (neutral third party specially trained to work in divorce cases) facilitates face-to-face negotiations between divorcing spouses and helps them work out mutual agreements. The mediator will often recommend that each spouse consult with an attorney while the mediation process is proceeding. However, these consulting attorneys don’t attend mediation sessions.
In a “collaborative divorce” each spouse hires a collaborative attorney, and all parties agree to resolve the case without going to court. A team of professionals is assembled to assist in the decision- making process. Besides the attorneys, the usual team includes mental health professionals (who function as “divorce coaches” and child specialists) and a neutral financial specialist (eg., an accountant or a financial consultant). Using face-to-face negotiations, e-mails and telephone calls, the spouses and their collaborative team address each issue in the case.
The greatest benefit to choosing mediation or collaborative divorce is that they enable divorcing spouses to make their own decisions. In dividing parenting time, for example, a judge might choose a standard schedule that’s used in many other cases. In mediation and collaboration, spouses can structure a parenting plan that best fits their children’s needs.
Sometimes, however, court is the only way to resolve an issue. For example, if your spouse subjects you or your child to domestic violence, you will have to file a request for a protective order. Or, if you need immediate financial assistance from your spouse, you might have to ask a judge to award you temporary child support and/or alimony. If so, it’s best to accept the fact that you need to go to court, and consult with an attorney for help.
(Avoid the cost and stress of going to court: Divorce Without Court).
8. Be Honest with Your Attorney and Your Spouse
You need to provide your attorney with all key facts so he or she can analyze your case properly and give you appropriate advice. Even if you hide something from your attorney, the facts may very well come out anyway (eg., your spouse may discover hidden facts from a third party or by reviewing documents). By then, however, your failure to be up front may have already harmed your case and your ability to obtain a good result.
Similarly, you should be honest with your spouse. In California, divorcing spouses must voluntarily disclose complete information and documents regarding their income, expenses, assets and debts. In addition, the law requires spouses to update that information as new facts come to light.
The law is serious about these duties. Judges may impose severe penalties on spouses who fail to comply. In one case, the wife filed for divorce and hid the fact that she won $1.5 million in the California Lottery. The husband found out and informed the judge about the concealment. The court awarded all - not just half - of the lottery winnings to the husband.
(Thinking about talking to a divorce lawyer? Get ready for Your First Meeting With A Divorce Attorney).
9. Create an Inventory of Household Furniture and Furnishings and Make Copies of Important Documents
Disputes over furniture, furnishings and other valuable items, such as a great wine collection or an expensive piece of art, can be avoided by taking a complete inventory of your home as follows:
- take photographs of every item and photograph sets of small items, such as dinner ware, together
- use the front page of that day’s newspaper in every photograph in order to create a “time stamp,” which avoids any claims that the photo was taken at an earlier date
- keep your photos in a safe, protected place
- create a list of all items, including where they’re located and your estimated value of each, and
- get appraisals or ask for insurance inventories of the items in your inventory.
Despite the strict rules for disclosure, some divorcing spouses will hide or destroy key documents such as pre-nuptial agreements. This problem can be avoided by making copies of important documents as soon as you decide to file for divorce, or learn that your spouse is doing so.
10. Have Reasonable Expectations
Sometimes, divorcing spouses have goals that are completely unreasonable or inconsistent with the law. If you want your divorce case resolved quickly, you need to understand how the law applies to your case and have a reasonable expectation about the outcome. You may want to consult with an attorney to get a better understanding of the potential outcome(s) in your case.
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