Typical scenario: You know you're having problems with your spouse. There's lots of arguing, the person seems like a stranger, and everyone's walking on eggshells. Someone eventually brings up divorce and that conversation doesn't really have an ending. And then...it happens. You get served divorce papers. You call someone close to you and say, "My wife filed for divorce! (or my husband)" It's shocking, upsetting and devastating, regardless of whether or not you knew it was only a matter of time.
"My wife filed for divorce" isn't really the start of a divorce. We all know that. Divorce can start five years before it actually happens. But, when one of the two files, that is the OFFICIAL start of a divorce: a process that can last two months or six years. I've seen both and everything in between.
A divorce ends OFFICIALLY when the two people go to court, stand in front of a judge with an agreement in hand, and the judge signs it and declares them divorced. Or, they go to trial and when that decision is made by a judge or jury, they are officially divorced. But, we all know a divorce decree isn't the end of a divorce. A divorce never ends, in my opinion, especially when the couple has kids.
So, how do you survive the period between being served divorce papers and the official end of the divorce? It's a time that some might call a journey. I personally think it's a roller coaster, and at times, hell on earth.
What I would say to a person whose spouse just filed: Brace yourself. Be prepared to be upset, depressed, angry, scared and hurt. I hate having to say that but it really is the truth.
When two people enter divorce litigation (which is what is happening when someone files), their fate is in the hands of their attorneys and the judge who is assigned to their case.
So, one of the stresses is how little control you actually have over your divorce.
I can remember feeling like I was on trial during this period of time, like everything I did and how I was acting was being watched or monitored, and that if I did anything that the judge didn't like, I could lose my kids. Sound a little paranoid?
That's exactly what people become. They are scared. Really, really scared. And that is probably the biggest cause of stress, and what makes people so angry with their soon-to-be ex. Fear leads to anger.
One thing you can control is choosing wisely when it comes to your attorney. Make sure you trust this person with all your heart. Trust your gut in making your decision. Ask yourself:
1. Would this attorney present him/herself well in court?
2. Is he/she likable and professional? Would he/she be liked by the judge?
3. Is he/she just trying to make money or do they really seem to care about justice?
4. Is he/she too busy for me? Or are they going to give my case the attention it needs? In other words, am I just a number?
5. Does my attorney have a good track record? Is he/she experienced? Do I know anyone who used the attorney who would say good things about him/her?
6. Do I feel in my gut that this person has my best interest at heart?
The other thing you can control is how you act, the decisions you make and how you choose to deal with the stress of this brutal time. There are good ways and bad ways. Bad ways include excessive drinking, drugs and other addictive outlets. Good ways: exercise, yoga, faith, therapy, using your support system-friends and family. Want to slap me right now? I know it's hard to hear, but these things really, really do help!
Over the next few months, here are some common bombs that can be dropped:
1. Your ex sues for sole custody. (that's the worst one)
2. Your ex accuses you of something that is untrue.
3. Your ex's opinion of child support is completely different than what you think is fair.
4. Your ex refuses to settle. Seems like he/she thrives on battling, which can only mean more legal fees.
5. Your monthly statements come in the mail from your attorney and you seriously feel like throwing up.
6. You come to get your kids and your ex isn't speaking to you (seems particularly angry-even though he/she is angry all the time) and you have no idea why.
7. Your kids will be more on edge because you are.
8. You will fight more w your soon-to-be ex because you are mad at each other.
What I experienced, and what I have seen others experience is that this is a time of turmoil and chaos. There's a lot of uncertainty and surprises (in a bad way). It's a roller coaster ride. One day your attorney tells you your ex is going to settle, the next, your ex changes his/her mind and you're back in court.
Here's the good news. It will end someday, and that is a very very very good day.
You walk out of court and your divorce is finalized, and yes, there is sadness, but for me, most of it was relief: no more uncertainty, so no more being afraid. The terms are on a piece of paper that I'm holding in my hand. No more attorney's fees. No more fighting, because you already legally settled it.
I also find that ex's become more civil and kind to each other because a ton of pressure was just lifted off of them.
Of course, we all know that many people don't follow divorce decrees and you could end up back in court, but that's something you have to accept as a possibility and try not to worry about.
"My wife filed for divorce (or husband)" eventually turns into "My divorce was just final," and then hopefully turns into, "My ex and I are very amicable, the kids are great, and by the way, I'm in love!"
Jackie Pilossoph is the author of the blog, Divorced Girl Smiling. She is also the author of her new divorce novel with the same name, as well as her other divorce novel, FREE GIFT WITH PURCHASE. Ms. Pilossoph is a weekly business features reporter and columnist for Sun-Times Media. She lives in Chicago with her two kids. Oh, and she's divorced.