Whether your relationship is just starting to get in real trouble, you’re in the middle of a divorce, or at the end of the process, divorce and separation are some of the most difficult transitions someone can go through. Here are some of my tips to help guide you through this turbulent time:
- If you have children, remember that they are made from two parents, and that most children feel that connection to each parent. If you attack the other parent, either physically or verbally, in front of the children, you can’t help but hurting them, too.
- Whether you have children or not, most married couples have a circle of friends and family which are special and important to them. Don’t make them choose sides, or they will. Just thank them for their understanding and emotional support, and let them know you think too much of them to put them in a position in which they have to pick sides.
- Don’t let your friends or family get involved beyond providing understanding and emotional support. This is your divorce, not theirs, and you are responsible for your choices. When it’s over you will live in the aftermath of those choices, not them.
- Consult with an experienced therapist to gain perspective about your situation. When emotions are running high, you probably aren’t processing the situation as rationally as you might think, or need to. A good counselor will help you figure it out. And since they understand child development, they’re also good at providing coaching and advice about how to deal with children whose parents are divorcing.
- Support the parental authority of the other parent (within reason). If you enable your child to rebel against the other parent, your child will just feel that much more empowered when the rebellion occurs in your home (and it will). Even if you don’t agree on financial issues, try to separate parenting issues from other disputes, so your child(ren) can be effectively parented by both of you.
Legal Process Tips
- It’s difficult to figure out when to go to Court, or even if you have to, unless it’s a real emergency. If it’s not very clear to you when to start the process or go to Court, consult with an experienced attorney, or two, about your options (and average their advice). And, importantly, also discuss how you will let your spouse know you’re about to start the process. Sometimes surprise service of documents is necessary (for example, when personal safety is an issue), but remember that no one likes to be surprised or ambushed, and most times it’s not necessary to treat your spouse or partner in that manner. Showing a little respect for the other person’s feelings when you can, at the beginning of a separation, can go a long way towards limiting a conflict, which will also save you, in the long run, on legal fees.
- If you’re going to represent yourself, consult with an experienced attorney on an ongoing basis. When consulting with you, an attorney can act like a coach, and not only ensure that your pleadings look good, but also make sure you make as much sense when you speak to the judge as you thought you did in your written declaration.
- If you hire an attorney to represent you in litigation (actually going to court), remember that his/her reputation and demeanor matter to the court, and reflect on you. If you hire a good, rational, professional attorney, you will appear to have good judgment; if you hire someone unprofessional and unnecessarily argumentative, what do you think the judge is going to think of you?
- The more complicated the custody or financial issues are, the more important it is to hire an experienced mediator, or attorney.
- The hourly rate of the professional you’re hiring does not always correspond to his/her experience, ability, or quality. In Sacramento, and every other jurisdiction in the country, there are some very good attorneys who charge less than others, and some who charge much, much more, but aren’t worth hiring. When comparing professionals, and within reasonable limits, experience usually trumps hourly rate.
- It’s not a good idea to change attorneys, but if you’ve hired the wrong attorney, find and hire the right one.
- If you start out in litigation, you can switch to mediation, or collaborative practice. If you’re in mediation you can switch to collaborative practice or litigation. In short, you and your spouse can be flexible depending upon your needs, so even if things start out poorly between you and your spouse, don’t hesitate to get out of litigation, and into a different process, if that’s what you and your spouse want to do.
- Litigation starts quickly, and then bogs down. It is not unusual for litigated matters to go on for a year or two. Collaborative practice and mediation cases start off more slowly, but then as comfort increases with the process, the negotiations go faster and faster, which is why most mediated and collaborative cases get finished in much less time. For a more detailed description of the differences between Mediation, Collaborative Practice, Unbundled Services, and Litigation, check out my website.
- Negotiating your divorce can be like buying a car. Imagine you needed to buy a car, there was only one person selling cars, and that person only had one car to sell. Now, you know you’re going to buy that car, and the seller knows the car will be sold to you. But if you started off your negotiations by saying, “you are such a jerk…”, though you will still be able to buy the car, it’s likely going to affect the price. Moral of the story: you don’t have to like someone to negotiate in a courteous and cooperative way, and thereby keep the price at a reasonable level.
- Pick your battles carefully. There are times when a hard line must be drawn, but if you fight over every little thing, it will be much harder to negotiate with your spouse when it’s about something important.