Divorce is a tough word to hear and an even tougher process to go through. It can leave you reeling, not knowing where to turn or what to do. All of a sudden, your whole life is up in the air and there seems to be no stable ground anywhere. Everything from your children, your home and your livelihood are up for grabs. The final decision may be made by a stranger you've never met, and in a courtroom you've never been to. There is one vital piece of advice I give all my clients:
You must understand that the anxiety you're feeling is all because you are in unfamiliar territory, and we're always anxious over what's unfamiliar. This is hopefully the first and last time you will go through this, but you will get through it. The purpose of this blog post is to help you understand the answers some of the most common questions people have about divorce and to give you some calm during this storm.
1. Keep EVERYTHING in Perspective
Many times, people will try to "win" their divorce at all costs. They will cause irreparable harm to feel as though they "won". I won't lie to you, sometimes, you have to fight. Sometimes there is no other way. However, I always advise my clients to keep everything in perspective and try not to create a fight if there isn't one. You need representation who can help you make those decisions; who can help you see the forest for the trees.
My advice is to consider what a long court battle will do to your family, what it will do to your finances, and what it will do to you before you decide to fight. Is there another way forward? Can we figure out a creative solution to your problems that doesn't involve thousands of dollars to fight a court battle and the potential damage that comes along with it. Take everything into account to determine the true cost of those decisions.
2. Think It Through
I heard someone say that "Criminal Lawyers get to see their clients on their best behavior and Family Lawyers get to see clients on their worst behavior."
This is not to say that people going through a divorce are bad people, but rather, they are great people in an incredibly difficult situation. A divorce will turn your life upside down and inside out. Everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, faced with the potential outcomes in a divorce becomes emotional.
My recommendation is not to make decisions in an emotional state. Recognize that you are upset or hurt or angry and deal with that. Do not let that emotion become the basis for a decision you may regret later on down the road. My recommendation is to find someone you can bounce ideas off of who cares about you and has your best interest in mind. Make sure to think the decisions through as best you can because a divorce can cause you to lose focus on what really matters.
3. Your Children Aren't Getting a Divorce, You Are
I am a father of three and the worst part of divorce is the knowledge that you will probably not get to tuck your children into bed every night. Money can be made again, home can be sold and purchased again, and retirement accounts can be replenished, but time with your children is something you can never get back and never replace.
People put their children in the middle of their divorce all the time. They fight with their spouse in front of their children. They talk poorly about their spouse or their spouse's family in front of their children. They ask the children to pick sides.
Keep in mind that your children's world is being upended right along with yours. The more you fight in front of them, the more animosity you show around them, the more difficult the divorce process is on them. 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.
4. Don’t Believe Everything Other People Tell You About Divorce
I often have clients who will tell me how things happened in their friends’ case or that they read something on the internet that they think might be applicable. I'm usually very receptive to this and will talk with my clients about it because there's nothing more dangerous than someone who thinks they know EVERYTHING.
However, internet information can, and usually is, misleading. Additionally, some strategy or tactic that worked in your friend's case may not work in yours. Understand that free information is worth exactly what you paid for it most of the time.
Every case has its own unique set of facts and issues. Sure, there may be similarities, but your case is just as much and individual as you are. Ask questions and make sure you get answers. Get second and third opinions from people your trust, but also, make sure to rely on the information you are receiving from your attorney rather than google or your buddy.
5. Focus on the Future. The Past is the Past.
A natural part of divorce is, what I call, "score-carding". This is the process where my client goes through all of the wrongs done to them by the other spouse. This is absolutely normal and necessary in most situations. You need your attorney to know why you are divorcing and understand the hurt the other spouse has caused you.
However, focusing on the past will get in the way of your future.
You will have a life after divorce, I promise. My recommendation is that you focus on what that life is going to look like rather than dwelling in the life you're leaving behind. I always try to help my client set goals for what they want out of the divorce (child visitation schedule, living situation, financial goals, etc.). Focusing on your future is more helpful (and a lot more fun) than dwelling on the past of an ending marriage.
Also, focusing on where you're going means you are much less likely to get distracted and off course along the way. Let's focus on where you're going rather than what was done to you to get the outcomes you want in this process.
6. Court May Not Be the Best Way
You know how I said earlier that the final outcome of your case may be decided by a stranger you've never met in a courtroom you've never been in? If you can't reach an agreement on your case, that might be exactly what happens.
I'm not saying this to discourage anyone from going to court, and sometimes you must go to court to obtain the outcome you want. I'm also not saying that the Judge in your case isn't a caring wonderful human being, but I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't relay the realities of going to Court.
First, you need to know that going to Court is an expensive process. It can often times be thousands of dollars with no guarantee of a favorable outcome. The other thing you should know is that a judge may, on a personal level, want to give you the relief you are requesting, but may be bound by what the law will allow him or her to give you. Lastly, no matter how closely the judge pays attention to your case, he or she is still a stranger to you, your children, and your finances. If it is possible for an agreement to be reached, it will be made by people intimately familiar with the details of your case rather than just one more case on the docket.
7. Create an Inventory of Household Furniture and Furnishings and Make Copies of Important Documents
Can you name all the property you and your spouse own right now? I can't.
You may be surprised at the items of property you will fight over in a divorce, and creating an inventory of those items can avoid those fights. If you know everything you have, and everything you want, it makes it easier to identify potential items of contention.
To take a complete inventory of your home, do the following:
- 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.
8. Make Sure You Want to Get Divorced
This is an obvious thing, but it is important and the decision to divorce should not be made lightly or during periods of emotional distress. My recommendation is to always attempt to exhaust all avenues of reconciliation before you file for divorce.
Once you make the decision to file your petition and your spouse is served with those divorce papers, you may not be able to put that cat back in the bag. Keep in mind that the Court can and will grant a divorce even if only one spouse wants it. If you still want to try counseling or some form of reconciliation, you should do so before you file for divorce.
9. Gather Documentation
Your divorce case will depend largely on documentation and evidence and that evidence will allow your attorney to give you the best advice possible. You should know that your bank accounts, retirement accounts, phone records, text messages, mortgages, car notes, and deeds will all be important in your case. It is important that you obtain as much of that as possible prior to filing.
If you share accounts and property records with your spouse, you should make copies of everything you can before meeting with your attorney. You should also make copies of all your online transactions and account records as your spouse may lock you out of these accounts when they are served. This information can always be obtained through litigation discovery; however, it can cost a large sum to obtain these documents.
10. Make Necessary Purchases or Sales
You need to know that the Court will likely enter an order that “freezes” the finances of you and your spouse. The order will allow for you to make normal purchases like groceries, the mortgage payment, and car note, etc. However, larger purchases and sales will be prohibited. The Court will do this to keep you and your spouse from emptying the bank account or selling assets out from under each other.
If you have had plans on making a purchase or sale, you will be prevented from doing so without the Court’s blessing. It is not right to drain the bank accounts or try to fraudulently purchase or sell items (this WILL come back to haunt you). However, if you have a legitimate need it is best to accomplish this prior to the filing or at least let your attorney know so that he or she can ask the court for permission.