There are over a million divorces in the U.S. each year. But, getting divorced is not something that most of us do twice. So, as first timers, with no experience, we enter into a state of upheaval as we fall into the divorce industry's 50 billion dollar a year maze. In this tangled web you are likely to find yourself pitted against someone who was once your closest ally. And the rules of engagement are secret and complex. Something is wrong with this picture!!
I have long believed that the divorce industry is ripe for revolution. And, if you look at my mediation practice it's clear that I practice what I preach. In addition, I am in the process of creating a divorce guidebook, aptly titled The Divorce Guidebook: Tools, Support, Information and Advice For Successfully Navigating the Treacherous Terrain Between Married and Divorced that includes contributions from over thirty nationally recognized divorce experts. The book won't be published until 2016. In the meantime, here are some of the tips for achieving an emotionally and financially successful divorce that the insiders have been sharing with me.
Tip #1. Learn Before You Burn. Educate yourself. Divorces are like snowflakes, no two are alike. Because of the unique and multi-faceted nature of divorce, it's difficult to get the whole story. Attorneys focus on legalities and often miss underlying motivations and hidden possibilities. Psychologists don't have the expertise to navigate through the complex financial regulations that are a big part of the divorce process. Family and friends lack the knowledge and objectivity to steer divorcing people in the right direction. And, wading through the information, and misinformation, on the internet can become a full-time job.
Ultimately, no one expert may be able to guide you through all the twists and turns. In fact, you may fare best if you are able to put together an interdisciplinary team of advisors that you can call on with different questions. According to Gary Schreiner, JD, who has worked as an attorney, parenting coordinator, case assessor, court mediator and divorce coach in Ammon, Idaho:
A civil war, between the old guard (proponents of the traditional adversarial system) and the new divorce visionaries, is currently raging. And, divorce's changing landscape has brought more options. So before you hire an attorney or engage in scorched earth litigation, find out what options are available in your area. Mediation, collaborative law, family dispute resolution centers, unbundled legal services, parenting coordination, self-representation workshops and more are spreading every day.
Gary believes that "knowing your options can mean the difference between needing a bandage or a surgeon to heal your divorce wound."
Tip #2: Manage Your Expectations. According to DC Divorce Attorney Brian Pearlstein:
Many clients come in with preconceived notions of what they want to achieve and often these desires are driven by emotional, rather than practical, considerations. In fact, each state has well established precedents on domestic relations law. A knowledgeable lawyer can explain the realities so that you can set your expectations and work towards achieving a reasonable result.
I agree. Even if you choose not to retain a lawyer, a consultation can provide you with critical information.
Tip #3: Plan Ahead. And, plan as if your spouse is planning ahead too. According to St Augustine based Divorce Attorney Ryan Albaugh, many people start planning for divorce months, if not years, before their spouse learns that divorce is on the horizon. Ryan finds that many clients want to put him on an advance retainer so that they can have someone to call with strategic questions. The questions he commonly gets are in regard to 1) how the length of the marriage will affect alimony, 2) how changes in employment will affect alimony and child support, 3) how time sharing with the children will likely play out, 4) how large asset sales should be handled, 5) the best way to deal with acquiring additional debt with a soon to be ex-spouse; and 6) how to protect an imminent inheritance from a soon to be ex-spouse.
Tip #4: Stay CIear With Your Attorney. Nothing should be happening behind the scenes. According to Janet Bezler, a divorce attorney in Columbia, MO, "your attorney should share every detail of your case with you." Remember, "your attorney is your employee and s/he has an obligation to answer questions and ensure that you are thoroughly informed so that you can make educated decisions about your case." Likewise, Tim Hoch, a divorce lawyer in Fort Worth, Texas, reminds us that it's important to be transparent with your lawyer even if there are embarrassing things in your past. In the end, it's better to confront your weaknesses head on.
Tip #5: Mind Your Money. According to Tim Hoch, before you step into the viper's den of divorce court, take stock of your finances with an inventory that looks at your bank accounts, retirement accounts and credit cards. Even if you have the advantage by being the spouse who manages the money you need to ask yourself (1) what would I do if my checking account and credit cards were closed tomorrow?, and (2) how would I pay for essentials like health care deductibles and my mortgage? And, speaking of minding money, in order to minimize unexpected legal fees, remember to set parameters that you expect your attorney to follow.
Tip #6: Don't Focus On Now, Focus On Five Years From Now. Brian Pearlstein finds that "clients often get caught up in the here and now and they forget about the future." He says "wise lawyers will steer their clients away from today and prepare them for five years down the road." Every divorcing person should ask him or herself "What do I need to be successful in my newly single life?" Without clarity around future goals, divorcing people often can't analyze what is the best course of action. For instance, before you fight to keep your house you should know if you can really afford the upkeep and mortgage payments. Then you will know if it's better to keep it or to cut a deal that gives you a certain amount of time in the house as well as a cut-off date for when you will leave and take your equity with you.
Tip #7: Take The High Road. According to Tim Hoch, divorce will make you a better person or a bitter person. And, you get to choose. For many of us, divorce is a prompt for saying and doing things we later regret. Resist the urge to act in an irrational manner. Forget about throwing flames. Instead, look for constructive ways to reach a settlement. As difficult as it may be, keep your emotions in check during hearings, depositions, mediation,and trial.
Ultimately, the Judge won't care if your husband didn't drop off your child at the appropriate hour or your wife had an affair. So save your emotional venting for a private time and place. Don't be manipulated by your soon to be Ex or by your lawyer. Don't use your kids as bargaining chips. Get off social media, everything you say and do can and will be used against you. And, remember that happiness is the best revenge.
Tip #8: Start With Mediation. According to Rachel Alexander, an attorney and divorce mediator practicing in New Jersey and New York, almost all divorces end up being settled without going to trial. Still, the majority of divorcing couples spend thousands of dollars preparing for litigation that will never occur. At the same time, they fail to prepare for the settlement negotiations that will actually determine the outcome of their divorce! It's likely that your case will end up in mediation. Why not start with mediation in the first place and save a lot of time, aggravation and money?
If you choose the mediation route, do not allow the mediator to push you into a settlement at the first meeting. Instead, get a draft of your proposed agreement and think about it for a few days. You can bring this draft to a lawyer for a consultation. (Not all lawyers will agree to be a consultant.) According to relationship expert Abby Rodman, LICSW, of Newton, Massachusetts:
It's a good idea to get a second set of eyes on your divorce agreement before you sign. Divorce agreements can be protracted and complex. And, just like everyone else, divorce attorneys and mediators can make mistakes. Signing a divorce agreement can have lifelong implications. So don't rush it -- go get a second opinion.
There is a lot of variety in the experience and training of mediators. Choose your mediator carefully. Mediators who write sloppy agreements or miss significant details can leave you open to problems later on. However, a knowledgeable mediator can help you look at all the options and create the best plan for your family as you move from living in one house into two.