Divorce is ugly. Prep yourself, dig your heels in, and make sure you get everything you deserve. You have to be the first one to strike. Make sure you file first. Don’t forget to make sure your lawyer goes after him / her for everything they have done to you. He / she cheated on you, and you should get everything. Make sure you get the children, you can’t trust him / her with them. Sound familiar. It may, because it is often the only advice family members, friends, and loved ones give a person preparing to undertake one of the most difficult processes they will ever undertake during their lifespan.
Divorce is a simple, yet complex journey. Why do we receive such ill-fated advice from the one’s we love. Well, simply put, they have most likely been ill informed by either first hand experience or second hand information about the ugliness associated with a divorce court battle. Let’s face it, the overburdened court will hear two highly polarized arguments, will pass judgment somewhere in between, and will ultimately leave all parties involved, win or loose, with a bad taste in their mouth about the entire process undertaken. This is the nature of the division process associated with a divorce, and in California, there is a no-fault divorce rule, so the court will not pass judgment on the actions taken by any party that preceded the divorce proceedings.
While the cause of the ill-fated advice we receive from loved-ones and family members is simply put, its reasoning on the other hand is very complex. This is because it is tied to our emotional state. During the divorce process, we are left with highly polarized, either / or thinking. Whether we are dealing with our personal emotions, or that of our family members, we cannot remove ourselves from our personal experience, and those feelings that arise when we face real life circumstances of loss trigger an array of emotions many are unwilling, or simply cannot face. While undergoing a divorce, the grief process arises. This causes an array of emotions to be present, including denial, anger, a sense of bargaining (if / then / but type thinking), depression, feelings of vengeance, and jealousy to be present, all at a time when we are forced to make the most rational decisions we will ever make in our lives. While emotions are necessary for the healing journey that is closely tied to the loss of any relationship, they deny us the rational capacity to make well informed decisions, the very decisions legal counsel will ask you to make in regards to your financial, emotional, and family’s well-being. This forms the foundation of an old-fashioned divorce, and stands as the catalyst from which a 6 month process can easily turn into a few year process, where every decision made is put through a cyclone of emotions, where rationale leaves the building, and one is left solely with wants to prove one’s point, get vengeance, and take part in a continued conflict based model that most likely acted as the reason for the divorce in the first place.
Are you ready for that to end?
In hiring a lawyer, understand that they are paid to represent your best interest. It is in their ethics, to ally themselves to your position, and help you resolve your legal issue by presenting your side of the case in a manner that aligns itself with the rules of law. In a no-fault divorce state, the court will not punish a person for divorce, whether they had an affair or not, did not help with the children, or whether poor fiscal decisions were made pre-separation. You have ultimately built the life you made with the person you are now divorcing, and the court will make a decision in-kind as to financial reciprocation paid to one versus another party, and the division of assets and liabilities built within the context of your relationship. The court is not there to solve a burden of proof, as to what side is right and / or wrong within the context of your relationship. Within this scenario, you abdicate your control to a third party, and the court is left to take control over your divorce proceedings, as you become left to make sense of a process where another party ultimately enforced its will upon your life in the form of an order. Make sense? Not in most scenarios.Especially if you did not know that another method existed.
Can you see an alternative? There are many.
Take Control:If there are aspects of violence involved, you may benefit from pursuing an old style divorce. In many circumstances, you will need to assure your personal safety while severing your relationship. However, in most circumstances, realize that you have choices, and in assuming control for your choices, you will reap the rewards of not only ending your relationship in an amicable manner, but preserve the lines of communication needed by your children, if you have them, to successfully rear them into adult life. By taking control, you dictate the conditions of your divorce, not a third party.This allows you the peace of mind knowing that you do not have to live up to an order proposed by a third party, and instead can be in control of your personal destiny as a single person.
Negotiate: Through negotiation, you build skills and the emotional armor needed to continue the negotiation practice you will need post divorce, especially if you have minor children. There are holidays, parties, graduations, birthdays, family reunions, weddings, and funerals to plan for, and your child remains one half of your ex-spouses lineage. In most circumstances, it is in your children’s best interest to take part in both family’s lives, and by building a relationship with more than one family, they will be assured multiple perspectives from which to perceive and implement a plan for success. Even though divorce negotiation is different (concerning division of assets and liabilities) than child custody negotiation, the skills needed to effectively communicate one’s needs versus wants will benefit you, your spouse, and your children during your post divorce years.
Mediate: Mediation is one means you can pursue divorce, and remain outside the courts jurisdiction. An attorney can help you negotiate, and mediate your divorce in a Marital Settlement Agreement. In doing so, you assume control over your divorce, and reinforce the negotiation skills that you will continue to need to effectively communicate with your ex-spouse / parent of your child, post divorce. Court is a fall-back, not a first line of defense. When you use as such, you can find amicable solutions to many of your problem.
Delegate: Your attorney in an old fashioned divorce is there to help advocate for your legal rights. While emotions run high in an old fashioned divorce, realize that attorneys prove points. If you hire one to negotiate a settlement, that is the service they will provide. If you hire them to fight, that is what they will do. Realize, that many decisions made during this process will need to be rational in nature, and a lawyer cannot be used as a tool to get vengeance. This motive is simply not within the rules of the court, and even though emotions may run high, you will ultimately be left to make calm, rational decisions in regards to equitable decisions, or face the reality of the ruling you will be given. If you find yourself unable to sort through your emotions, or find yourself pursuing a vengeance track, consult a therapist immediately. They will help you sort through your emotions, so that you can make rational decisions based upon what is in your mutual interest, not what you feel is justified in light of the hurt associated with the severance of a relationship.
Remember, it is imperative that you approach your divorce in a calm and rational manner. Your lawyer will live up to your expectations, whether rational or not. Your attorney will advocate for your legal rights, and will do that based upon the expectations you hire them for. However, do not confuse legal counsel with the emotional counseling you may need to sort through the emotions that accompany a divorce. Attorneys will help you sort through the legal implications your case has, and will ask you to make sound decisions based upon what is written within the scope of the law. This position differs greatly from that of a therapist, who can help you see how the implications of your emotions can affect your greater psychological wellbeing.
By Dr. Thomas C. Maples