A Few Things I Want My Little Sister to Know About Divorce

Apparently, Karma has a very different opinion of enough is enough and there are lessons yet to be learned and new perspectives each day, even after almost 22 years as a divorce lawyer.
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Apparently, Karma has a very different opinion of enough is enough and there are lessons yet to be learned and new perspectives each day, even after almost 22 years as a divorce lawyer. I am the child of divorce, a divorce survivor, a divorce attorney and now the sister of a soon-to-be divorced person. On the list of these somewhat unfortunate credentials, this one, on its surface, would seem the least traumatic of all. But she is my little sister, she was the tiniest casualty of my parents crumbled union, and I always felt a little like I have to watch out for her. Today, I can't fix her troubles by warming up a can of Spaghetti-O's and watching a Brady Bunch episode as I did when we were little. Nor can I really give my little sister legal advice. Well, technically, I can, but she would likely ignore my advice and do as she pleases just the same. I didn't represent myself in my own divorce. I doubt that I could be any more objective in my sister's divorce. Maybe, because she wouldn't be paying $400 an hour, my advice might seem less valuable anyway. So here are a few pieces of "free" advice, a bit sisterly and a bit lawyerly for my sister and maybe yours too -- you get what you pay for, after all.

1. Choose your counsel wisely.

By counsel, I don't just mean your divorce lawyer, I mean those who are there to monitor "your crazy". There will be crazy at some point. You may ultimately have that full on bat-shit crazy breakdown over something seemingly innocuous and totally unrelated, like finding a random white sock sitting in the hallway after you just finished folding and putting away all the laundry. (Ok, ok, that would be me but you get the picture) Some people have a little more crazy than others, but there is always a little drama. There is a saying "criminal lawyers see bad people at their best and divorce lawyers see good people at their worst." Don't worry about the crazy part, everybody has a bit of crazy during this time, there is generally a free pass, at least for a while and so long as no one is arrested.

Advice about how to proceed during this time will come from all walks of life and everyone has some advice, solicited or not. These advisers may include; the never married friend, your best new "just divorced" friend, your Mom, your therapist, your co-workers, and even your lawyer. They are all potential sources of some really bad advice. Just make sure that your particular group of rallied advisers are not just parroting your feelings, thoughts or desires to make you feel good about how and why you are proceeding. Listen to those friends and family who challenge you to really take that sometimes very difficult look in the mirror. This divorce thing is no fun; the only way it ever makes sense is to come out the other side learning absolutely, positively as much as you can about yourself and why you ended up here in the first instance. Friends who support you unconditionally are great; friends who challenge you to be a better person and behave in a way you can later be proud of, are even more valuable. Make sure you have a few of both.

2. Recognize there will still be problems.

Someone much wiser than me once said, "Wherever you go, there you are." Divorce is just like that. Some issues will be worse with divorce, some will be better. Some problems will be different problems and some of them will be exactly the same. If you didn't communicate well during the marriage, don't expect a miracle now. In fact, when people live under the same roof there is LESS of a need to communicate on the tiny little things about the kids, schoolwork, schedules and the finances. After the divorce, you will take two people who struggled to communicate and try and get them to effectively communicate about a thousand times better. You will have less money no matter how much you have to start with. You will have to figure out how to go to the grocery store before the sitter leaves, because late night runs will require the bundling up of two small children. You will still have sick kids, laundry piling up and a stressful job. You will be exhausted and want those little ones to just go to sleep and there will be no one there to spot you. Divorce is not a cure for all that ails us in this life. It is hard, it is supposed to be, or we all might give up a little easier than we should. When we divorce with the reasonable expectation it will fix some, but not all, things wrong in our universe and welcome its challenges as an opportunity to show how truly bad-ass we are, problems won't be so overwhelming after all.

3. Don't rush the process.

TThe mad passion that is the beginning of most love stories often morphs over time into a comfortable and peaceful coexistence even in the unhappiest of marriages. Most marriages don't end over a catastrophic event or dramatic movie worthy scene, just a sad realization that this is not what one or both want anymore. Divorce however, often seems to wake a sleeping dragon, where the apathy turns to a new kind of passion, anger. Anger comes from the one who doesn't want out, and anger can come from the one who does, at the other person for making them feel so damn guilty about the exodus. Time and only time, allows this anger to pass so you can look at divorce as what it needs to be, a difficult time where the decisions you make about how you proceed may pattern the family dynamic for years to come. Make then once the storm subsides.

There is a natural instinct to rush through this painful time in your life, move on and move out as quickly as possible. It takes time to get a handle on the finances, emotions and a plan that works for all parties, most importantly, the children. The Courts take time. The good news is there will be a clarity that comes with time. Most bad deals are made in a rush when someone literally is willing to give a kidney to "just get this over with." Time heals, if not all wounds, many of them. Be prepared to anticipate the time it takes to be able to move past the emotions so you can focus on the practicalities and realities of your new life with a clear, or at least clearer, mind.

4. Get your finances in order.

So many people are unaware of what it costs to run their household. How much of your lifestyle is borrowed from your future income on credit cards or equity lines? Now that these will have to be paid off and or allocated to each party how will you meet these expenses without continuing to spend in this manner? Know what it costs to run your household and save for the future inevitable calamities of life. Create a realistic budget that considers how you will pay all the same bills with half the money. Know your budget and commit it to memory. The budget rules now. Differentiate your wants from needs, as there will be less money to go around no matter how much you began with. Prioritize your long and short -term goals but do not sacrifice the long-term for the sake of immediate gratification. That new pair of Jimmy Choos will not make you happy if you are still paying them off 6 months from now and your car payment is late. (Again, this may be me, but you get the drift). This includes budgeting savings for a rainy day (think Seattle here people) as you will not have the spouse there to bail you out. Tighten your belt, this should be uncomfortable, if not, you are simply not cutting enough.

5. Lose the guilt trip, giving one or having one.

Fault and guilt are two very nonproductive nouns. Don't worry so much about to whom they belong, there always seems to be enough of both to go around. Share them. Once you each realize you each have a little fault and blame, things will go more smoothly. It does not matter how you got here to this place in the end. You get no special prize for being "right" in this scenario, trust me on this one. It does not make divorce any less crappy if it was absolutely, positively not your fault. (And that magical unicorn of the divorce world I have yet to see in 22 years of practice).

Guilt with the kiddos is equally useless. You are the same imperfect Mom or Dad; we all are, just like before, no worse. To focus on the guilt takes precious time away from enjoying every amazing and every disastrous moment in your parenting journey. Just be happy and they will be happy, it really is sometimes just as simple as that. Your children will get through it just like we did and they will be strong and able to do their own laundry and make a mean grilled cheese before they go away to college, which is not a bad thing.

This divorce thing is a roller-coaster for sure, little sister. It is one-step forward and two steps backward most days. There are days you will be invigorated and alive with the possibilities of a new life. There are days you will be so overwhelmed that although you realize this may be necessary, it comes at enormous cost and wonder if it is all worth it. There will be opportunity to make the parenting relationship with your soon to be ex better than you ever thought possible. There will be days where you will struggle with the smallest parenting decisions. Sometimes you will be wrong. You will need to ask for help from friends, family and each other.

The most important thing for you to know is life will get a little better day-by-day. This difficult time will someday fade into the background being simply a small part of who you are and you will be stronger than you ever knew was possible. You will be reminded from time-to-time of blissful memories as the sky begins to clear. You will end up a happy, truly amazing person worthy of love with one simply fantastic sister who has your back, no matter what.

© Krista Barth, 2015

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