1. We have a LEGAL system not a JUSTICE system.
No one knows what will happen in court except that no one wins. Don’t mistake the courthouse as a place where your spouse will be penalized for being difficult and where you will be rewarded for putting up with it for so long.
2. Interview more than one lawyer.
Your divorce settlement is one of the most significant financial and family plans of your life, so be certain that you are working with the right person. Often people hire the first lawyer they meet, but each lawyer has a different bedside manner, philosophy, strategy, and relationship with the other professionals and the court. Meet with more than one and compare notes. Are they an ally for your family, or themselves?
3. Divorce is full-time job.
It often comes as a surprise how much time and work are required to organize the voluminous documentation, meet with professionals, and explore strategies, not to mention the tremendous upheaval at home and in our hearts. How do we take this on and manage our real jobs and now single parenting? It is a significant life transition that is quite literally another full-time job. Redefine priorities and adopt health & wellness practices that help you manage time, emotion & boundaries for the long haul.
4. Be an active participant in your own divorce.
This is your family and your business contract. Educate yourself, ask questions, deconstruct your finances, build a spending plan, and work with the right experts so that you make informed decisions for your future, your spouse’s future and your children’s future. If you actively participate and partner with your professionals, they will be far more effective in guiding you to settlement.
5. Be very selective about the voices in your ear.
Emotional support is one thing, but stay focused on a constructive process, not a destructive one because of what your friends and family think about your soon-to-be Ex. Often loved ones believe they are showing you support when in fact they are inadvertently feeding adversity.
6. Do not expect your Ex to make-up or “pay” for emotional pain.
Punitive damages for emotional stress do not exist in family law. The divorce process is not the place to extract payment for an unhappy marriage or bad behavior. Rather than focus on your spouse and the past, focus on yourself and how different life will be free from strife.
7. You know your spouse better than anyone; trust your intuition.
No one knows your spouse better than you do; don’t allow the professionals to dismiss legitimate ideas or concerns that you might have. Be the architect of a process and solution that is successful for both you and your spouse.
8. Lawyers are capable of escalating adversity with the simple stroke of their pen.
Some lawyers use a writing style that is without a doubt directly rude and condescending to your spouse. This is not a requirement of the process. When a lawyer uses this technique all it does is escalate conflict which means greater cost and rarely does it lead to a more generous settlement. Not all lawyers are created equal, so while there are family law attorneys who are complicit in needlessly escalating adversity and fees, there are many reasonable, ethical, and solution-oriented attorneys. It is worth taking the time to find them. Do your research.
9. Temporary Insanity
The overload of emotional triggers is so profound that there isn’t one spouse who doesn’t utter, at one point or another, “I don’t recognize my spouse, this isn’t the person I married” (and if they are honest with themselves, “I don’t recognize myself”.) Try to step back, be gentle with yourself and allow space for temporary insanity. It is just temporary!
10. Respond, do not React, to inflammatory texts, email or voice mail.
If you are on the receiving end of inflammatory communication, allow space for reaction and then respond. Don’t be fooled into engaging with the bully. Everyone is the worst version of themselves, and when in reaction, that can spiral. Create boundaries around when you open the communication (perhaps not at work or with the kids in the car). Draft responses, but don’t send them for 24 hours after you have had time to think. Use whatever method works for you, but whenever possible, throw water, not gas on the flame.
11. If you are married to a personality disorder…
We have good news and bad news. The bad news is that we do not have a system that protects spouses when they are married to a personality disorder. Personality disorders can affect one’s fundamental ability to compromise, be “fair,” and be compassionate about someone else’s needs. This means that the healthy spouse can chase a fair compromise forever without success, a devastating and costly pursuit. But, now for the good news. Now you know! Knowledge is power. If you know that your spouse has a personality disorder, then you have the power to identify when and how to get out. It might not be with “fair” terms, but you will be free to put all your energy and resources into your future rather than your past.