One of the hardest things about handling a divorce is separating the emotional aspects of the action with the more pragmatic, nuts-and-bolts division of assets and debts. Why do some divorces last for years and lead to seemingly endless litigation, whereas others appear to resolve “without a hitch”?
I can’t say for sure, but I can offer some advice on how to make your divorce easier on you (and your kids)!
1) Let go of the small stuff.
Most of your personal property has sentimental value, but really isn’t worth that much when it comes to dollars and cents. While I am infinitely sympathetic to wanting to keep knick-knacks that remind you of better times, or the completing disc in a special-edition DVD set, the time and money you will spend trying to hold on to personal property is not worth the headache. Objects can be replaced, your time can’t be. Let it go. Replace it. Save the fights for the big issues and big ticket property items. It is a huge adjustment to separate a shared life, and you have to become comfortable with the idea that things you used to have input in are now closed off to you.
2) Distinguish between the hurt your spouse has caused you and the way your spouse treats your children.
If there are issues of infidelity or marital waste, it is only natural to be hurt. This is a person you were planning on building a life with, and there is a very real sense of loss and betrayal that comes with learning and accepting that your plans will not be realized. However, whatever hurt your spouse has caused you, that does not necessarily translate into his or her inability to parent your children. While it is tempting to say “If you’re a bad money manager, you’re also a bad parent”, or “Since you had that affair, you obviously don’t value your family”, doing so will only function to put your children in the middle of the divorce. Understand that while the marriage did not work out, this is still a person you chose as a co-parent, and treat them with respect, without involving the children in the hurtful aspects of the break-up. Both you and your kids will feel better for it in the long run, and you’ll likely end up with a much more functional co-parenting relationship going forward.
3) Understand what your lawyer can (and can’t) do for you.
Long-standing relationship patterns don’t vanish just because a marriage is ending. If conflicts always centered around differences in parenting styles, those conflicts will likely continue throughout the divorce process. The same is true for disagreements about how to spend marital money, whether psychological counseling is beneficial to the couple or the children involved, and (often most dishearteningly), whether a divorce is really necessary. Understand that adding lawyers to the situation won’t cure these disagreements, and that your attorney will not be able to force the other party to change his or her behavior, be nicer to you, or parent in a way that you prefer. A lawyer can and should assist in advocating that you receive an equitable distribution of personal property, that placement and custody are in your children’s best interests. Lawyers are not therapists, accountants, or parenting coaches, and it can be frustrating for both the lawyer and the client when lawyers are asked to fix problems that are outside their expertise.
4) Understand that family court is about compromise. You will NOT get everything you want.
I often tell clients that there are no “winners” in family court, or, if there are, the person who is the least unhappy walking out the door gets to claim the 1st place trophy. If any attorney tells you that they can guarantee you’ll get everything you’re asking for, do not hire that attorney. Divorce is difficult. It virtually always places a financial strain on both parties, and nearly as often leaves both parties feeling disconnected from their children. Time is the best vehicle for healing that harm.
5) Do not involve your children in adult problems.
Don’t talk to your child(ren) about your divorce, beyond explaining to them that you and your spouse will no longer be living together, and that the divorce is not their fault. Do not communicate about placement exchanges, school events, or other issues through your children. Don’t have them pass messages along. Don’t have them report on your spouse’s new girlfriend or boyfriend. Do not put your children in the middle.