It's no secret that celebrity divorce lawyer Laura Wasser knows a lot about splitting up. But her knowledge precedes the time spent in her office and in court with high-profile clients, including Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears and Ashton Kutcher. Wasser is a child of divorce who co-parents with two former partners of her own, and marital dissolution is also the family business. Her father, Dennis M. Wasser, co-founded the reputable firm that second generation Wasser practices at today. In her new book, “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way: How To Divorce Without Destroying Your Family Or Bankrupting Yourself,” which hit bookshelves October 1, Wasser shares important advice that all married couples -- divorcing or otherwise -- should note.
Here, she shares the top 10 things to keep in mind when splitting up.
1. Communicate your expectations, in marriage and in divorce: Throughout any relationship, communication is crucial. If you are in a serious relationship and living together or entering into a marriage contract, it is very important to discuss expectations prior to doing so. These expectations could include anything from how to raise your children, where you will live, what kind of vacations you like to take and financial expectations. A prenuptial agreement is one way of leading into that conversation. I am always astounded at the couples who come to me after being married for some period of time and reveal that they never had such a conversation, whether or not a prenuptial agreement was in place. Conversations about money certainly are not sexy, but they should give each of you some clarity and enable you to enter into your marriage with a better understanding of each other and what is important. Work and home responsibilities, joint or separate accounts, budgets, etc. are all subjects which should be discussed.
2. Get counseling: One of the first chapters of my book is called "How Do You Know?." Generally, there are no lightning bolts or magical signs that tell you when it is time to get divorced. When the bad starts outweighing the good on a consistent basis, you may feel that taking the next step is appropriate. It is a very personal decision and most likely should be arrived upon with the help of some kind of counseling or support.
3. Put your children first: Many parents say that this is their goal but seem to forget it during the throes of the divorce process. If you can keep your children's best interests first and foremost in your mind, other issues will fall into place.
4. Be kind: Treat your spouse or partner the way you would like to be treated yourself. Once you do embark upon the separation or divorce process, it is very important to remember three key things: Be kind, be reasonable, be brief. Remember that this person will no longer be your spouse, but he or she will continue to be your co-parent, family member and perhaps business partner in certain assets or entities. Even if one or both of you lacked consideration or compassion during your marriage, this is the time to exhibit those qualities.
5. Remember that this is a business transaction: Like the marriage contract you entered into, your divorce is a legal transaction. Treat it that way. Try not to let emotion, hurt, fear or anger dictate the circumstances of your discussions or negotiations. Try to keep your emotions out of the process and things will move more smoothly.
6. Do your research when lawyering up: If it turns out that you do need the assistance of an attorney to help you through the divorce process, here are some tips for choosing one: In seeking a lawyer, you are looking for an advocate, an expert advisor on the law and on your rights and responsibilities, a strategist, a negotiator, and a litigator. But remember: No lawyer is as invested as you are in the outcome of the process, so it is necessary to become and stay involved in the process; that is also the best help you provide to your lawyer. Find a pool of lawyers from whom to choose, solicit referrals from other professionals you know or deal with — an accountant, banker, business leader. Check out Bar Association listings as well, and don’t neglect internet research. An in-person meeting is worthwhile, even if you pay for it, to explore the lawyer’s record of achieving settlements via mediation/negotiation vs. via court proceedings, to get a feel for the lawyer’s manner, and to see if there is chemistry and a sense of comfort between you. In a preliminary consultation, determine the lawyer’s fees, terms, and schedule availability.
7. Keep in mind that your attorney is not your therapist: While it is important to have a support system while going through the process, your lawyer is not qualified (and is generally billing at too high a rate) to be your mental health provider. Keep the legal and the emotional separate and you will save on fees.
8. Be creative: There is probably no such thing as a good divorce, but clinging to an old idea of how relationships are unraveled can make a bad thing even worse. That there is a whole new way to dissolve your relationship -- really a whole new choice of ways to do it. The evolution in family law has been accompanied by advances in mediation, collaborative practice, and self-representation, by the development of support and counseling practices, and by a substantive body of data on the impact of dissolution, direct and indirect, on all parties. And there is a whole new cadre of divorce lawyers -- like me -- who know how to help their clients navigate this new territory and emerge from it strong in mind, spirit, and resources and eager to move on to the next stage of their lives.
9. Live your life: Do not let your divorce take over your life. You have responsibilities, commitments and non-divorce related activities to attend to. It is OK to take a break from your divorce even as you are controlling the process. Do not micro-manage the process.
10. Stick together even as you are coming apart: If you have children, consider that you will always will be a family even if you are not living under the same roof. That is the point you need to make to your children not only when you sit down and tell them you are splitting up, but in every bit of follow-up. Forever, actually. This message needs to be branded onto the brains of all participants: This is us; we are a family, a unique and special configuration with a unique and special body of experience to our name and whatever our living arrangements, the configuration does not change. Think like a family member, act as a united front and have your ex's back when it comes to members of the extended family, your children, teachers and school administrators, etc. This will send a message to your children and to your ex and help you not only throughout the dissolution process, but beyond.