The end of any relationship can be difficult especially if it wasn’t your choice. It's obviously even more complicated (and difficult) if you were married. In a divorce situation, you experience a flood of thoughts and emotions: many experience confusion over what went wrong, guilt over past fights, the fear of being alone and, if you have kids, their sense of stability and wellbeing takes center stage. If you shared pets, a home, and kids, then this task of untangling yourself from the person you once called your 'other half' can be mentally and emotionally debilitating, making the legal process even more apprehensive.
What should you do to come out the other side with an agreement that's best for you and your family? When should you give in, when should you hold your ground in divorce negotiations? It's intimidating, confusing and overwhelming-- all at a time when you're vulnerable to begin with. So, we turned to some leading divorce and relationship experts for their guidance. Katherine Aldin is a high profile divorce lawyer. Lawrence Birnbach, Ph.D. and Beverly Hyman, Ph.D., are psychologists and management consultants who recently authored a book on how to deal with divorce.
The Attorney’s Perspective:
Oftentimes in a divorce scenario, parties make emotional decisions instead of rational decisions, which is understandable when you take a look at what is at stake in a divorce: your kids, your house, your retirement, and your livelihood. It is crucial, though, to avoid making emotional decisions, because that usually leads to more litigation - which has the effect of taking the money from your kids' college fund to pay the lawyers.
It's a good idea to try, to the best of your ability, to separate the two. With regard to emotions, let an expert handle that. A lawyer is not trained as a mental health professional the same as a therapist or psychologist is. Let your therapist sort out the emotional ramifications of your divorce, and let the lawyers handle the legal aspects.
With regard to issues on which to stand firm, the most obvious is custody. If you are truly fearful for the wellbeing of your child in the custody of the other party, you should stand firm. An important thing to remember is the interplay between emotion and the courtroom. If you FEEL a certain way, it's not enough. Once you're in a court of law, the only thing that counts is admissible evidence. Basically, if you're going to stand your ground on something, just make sure you have admissible evidence and confirmed facts upon which to go forward.
The other issue that bears discussion is that of ongoing spousal and/or child support. It's important for you, as either the payor or payee, to ensure that the amount of money you are paying or receiving will facilitate your needs.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
1. Leave the experts to tackle their own area of expertise: Let the therapists handle the emotions and the lawyers handle the legal stuff.
2. Trust your gut: But know that, if you choose to litigate an issue, "your gut" is not sufficient to prevail in court. You need evidence.
3. Settlement is almost always the best avenue: Keep your kids' college funds intact, don't liquidate it to seek revenge on your ex - all you do then is pay for your lawyers' kids to go to college.
4. In deciding what to compromise on, try to ascertain if there are issues that mean more to your ex than to you: Then, offer him those things so it appears as though you are really compromising. For example, he values the vinyl LP collection and the tanning bed. You'll miss those things, but you'd rather have him buy you out of the house. Offer him those things in the settlement package, and it might go a long way with him.
What the therapists say:
1. Find an attorney who complements your own personality: If you are the gentle type, you're better off with someone a bit tough; if you are tough, find a conciliatory lawyer who will provide some balance.
2. Make a prioritized list of must haves: the family pet, grandpa's stamp collection, etc. and stick to it.
3. Make a prioritized list of easy give-aways: his mom's silver service? The couch?
4. Avoid negotiating for yourself: Allow your lawyer to speak with his lawyer; avoid making side deals that don't include your lawyer.
5. If you make a concession through your lawyer or on your own, don't make another one until your ex has made a concession, too: In a negotiation, you must receive something in return for a concession; similarly, reward your ex for making a concession by making a concession in return. That keeps the negotiation moving forward. You DO want to get to the end of it.
6. Negotiate a settlement you can live with five years from now: You may be very anxious to get it over with right now; you may feel guilty, or furious. Five years from now you will regret it if you agree to conditions or terms that will influence you for the rest of your life. Don’t be hasty.
7. Make sure divorcing is a last resort and that you aren’t just going through a rough patch: Make sure you’ve tried every remedy first, so you don’t feel guilty that you ended it hastily.
8. If you are leaving, make a plan before you go, not after: Identify where the family assets are. Make sure you have information on the banks, insurance, valuables, etc. before announcing an exit. Secure things that truly belong to you.
9. Get your story out to friends and relatives: Whether he is ending it or you are, it’s important to get past your shame or embarrassment and help your family and friends see your side in a fair and sympathetic light. You will need a support system. Cultivate it right away.
10. Minimize the amount of contact you have with your ex: The less time you spend together the better, especially if there are children involved.
11. Consider getting pastoral or some other counseling: You want to be sure you never make the same mistake again. Figure out what went wrong. A counselor will also help you adjust emotionally to your new reality.
12. Don’t alert your ex if you start dating someone else: This is just a red flag, even if he left you. It’s indiscreet. This is no time to fan the flames of jealousy.
13. If you have kids, never blame them for the things that went wrong in the marriage; avoid bad mouthing their dad: That can only hurt them in the long run. He’s their dad forever; they can’t divorce him.
14. Unless you feel there is potential harm for your children, let your children see your ex as often as is practical: Don’t put roadblocks in the way. It will be good for you, providing you with some peaceful free time to restart your life, and it will be good for them. They need to feel that both their parents' love them and want to be with them. They can only benefit from having two active and involved parents, even if you can't stand him.
15. Finally, regarding the terms of your financial independence, know that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, five years after a divorce nearly 90% of men and women have recovered financially to their former lifestyles. Don’t get panicky. You are very likely to be part of that 90%.
Have you been through a divorce? Looking back, do you wish you had done some things differently?
Divorce Attorney:Celebrity Divorce Lawyer, Katherine Aldin works for the Law Offices of Schuchman & Marshall in West Los Angeles, CA and specializes in Family Law. Contact her at www.smdivorce.com
Divorce Therapists:Lawrence Birnbach, Ph.D., a New York and Connecticut based psychologist specializing in couples and individuals with relationship problems, and Beverly Hyman, Ph.D., a management consultant specializing in executive coaching who consults with the UN on women and family issues. If you are interested in finding out more about how to deal with your divorce, make sure to check out their book, How To Know If It’s Time To Go: A 10 Step Reality Test For Your Marriage (Sterling 2010).