WHEN DIVORCING, RESOLVE TO…
Everyone talks about New Year’s Resolutions. Of course, a new year is a great time to make a fresh start. A separation or a divorce is the beginning of a “new” life and is also a good time to make some resolutions. With full knowledge of how hard it can be, I am setting forth some resolutions that I believe all separating and divorcing couples should make during the process of divorce. Some of these resolutions apply to the legal process and some apply to the personal process. But if you are able to successfully apply these simple rules, you will feel and see a difference in how you navigate this life changing process.
1. Always tell your attorney the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Do not assume that you can correctly assess what is or is not important for your attorney to know and do not assume that attorneys can read minds. One of my favorite lawyers in town tells the story of an early case involving a sweet, someone elderly woman who hired him after her husband hit her in the face. He couldn’t understand what possible defense the other attorney had for the husband. Until during cross examination of his client, the other side asked the woman whether her husband hit her before or after she tried to shoot him. Apparently, his client didn’t think that part of the story was important.
2. Always respond to your attorneys’ correspondence and calls. If your attorney is asking you to do something, they need for you to do it. I had a client who I felt was wonderful and on top of everything. One day she confessed that she sometimes just put my letters or emails in a drawer when she was having a good day so that it wouldn’t be ruined.
3. Ask questions. If you do not understand what is happening, then ask. Often, nothing is happening in your case. The other side might have a set amount of time to respond to something and in the interim, all is quiet. Don’t get mad that you are not being given constant updates on your case. Call and ask what is happening in your action and when you might expect something.
4. Find a good counselor or therapist to help you through the emotional aspect of the separation. You are going to hurt during this process. It doesn’t matter what side of the divorce you are on, you will experience a range of emotions you have not necessarily dealt with. And you will be asked to maintain your job, your relationships with your family and friends, and even parent your children, all while making some of the most long ranging legal decisions of your life. You will need help. Your attorney can give practical advice and legal advice. But attorneys need to focus on your legal issues. And family members as well as friends get very burned out and tired. So seek professional help. It is worth it.
5. Refrain from comparing divorce stories. A support group is helpful if it gives you a place to share your feelings and gain insight. But do not listen and compare results of legal actions. Every family is different and every case has a different outcome. The factors in the end result of a divorce are endless. You simply can’t compare. And more likely than not, the person sharing the story is going to leave out many unflattering truths that might have impacted their own personal result. So many people waste time and effort based on what a neighbor, friend or support group member told them to do. Just remember your situation is unique. You want to be focused on what you need and can achieve.
6. Try to compromise and prioritize. Compromise is necessary to any solution. As hard as it is to compromise with someone who you thought you had given everything to for years, it will be necessary. And if you share children, it will be necessary for the rest of your life. So many people come to me and direct me to make sure that they win. Often, they are so focused on the other side that they forget to focus on reality. The reality is that no one can have everything go their way in a divorce. It is important to know what you absolutely have to get out of the relationship and what you can live without. If you stay focused on your goals, you can give things important to the other person away without feeling you lost something. Alternatives to court action exist and should be explored.
7. Never involve your children in your disputes. If you can only keep one resolution, this is the one to keep. As a parent, you have shielded and guarded your children through many unhappy realities. Divorce is not exception. Children do not need to know why their parents separated or what they are fighting about. One of the biggest problems I see is one parent trying to align their children with them against the other parent. Over time, I have watched many children flip from one parent to the other. Worse, I have watched children move between the homes of their parent anytime there was a disagreement simply because they could always count of the support of one parent as long as it pitted them against the other parent. In the long run, the children always lose. Usually the marriage happened without the children. The divorce should be kept between the parents too.
8. Look forward, not back. When divorce is “no fault” it does little good to dwell on the blame. You will succeed in a good resolution if you can focus on what your future needs to look like instead of what your past did look like. Take time to create your future. Some of the most satisfied clients I have every worked with successfully built a great life for themselves by letting go of the one they built with their ex- spouse. They did not look to maintain, but to gain. While some continuity is often necessary for children, the truth is that nothing is the same. So the trappings of the old life don’t always provide the comfort that we seek. I love it when I run into a client who is doing something they always wanted to do before the marriage, but never made time to do before the divorce. It may seem trite, like a silver lining playbook, but it can be empowering. We don’t make a list of things we failed at in December. We make a list of things we want to do better in the coming year.
And while divorce is an end, it can also be a beginning, if you let it. But how successful your divorce is, will depend as much on you and how you choose to handle it as it will on any decision made by a lawyer or a Judge.
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