Taking Control of
Your Divorce: The Attorneyís Perspective
by Marguerite C. Smith,
The Negative and Positive Approach
The Negative Approach to Divorce
The Positive Approach to Divorce
Stage One - Moving Away from Each Other Emotionally
Stage Two - Finding an Attorney and Defining Your Divorce
Stage Three - Establishing Your Divorce Mindset & Taking Control
Stage Four- Get Ready to Start Your Divorce
Stage Five - Start Your Divorce
Stage Six- The End of Your Divorce
Anyone who is reading this site is going though a very tough time in their
lives or cares for someone who is. Having been through a divorce myself,
you have my sympathies and support. I have tried to bring my personal experience
and the experiences of many of my clients, to this article to help the reader
take what is often an unhappy situation and accept it. If the marriage cannot
be saved, move on and shape your future the way you want it to be. You should
shape your future during the divorce process rather than after. Naturally
it is much easier to do this when your divorce has not spiraled out of control.
By that I mean that you are not caught up in a vicious court battle which
drains your emotional and financial resources. I call this 'divorce control'
If you can keep the divorce on a sane level you will have more time and
energy to concentrate on what you want your post divorce life to look like.
Some examples of future issues you may want to consider are:
||Where would you
like to live?
||What level and
lifestyle do you want to maintain?
||How will you
pay for this?
||What kind of
job do you want to have?
||What do you wish
for your children?
arrangement would you like to see between you and your ex?
In this article I give
you tips on how to keep your divorce sane and 'in control' by emotional
as well as financial preparation. Please note if you are in an abusive situation,
you may need special help; whereas, spouses can be very nasty to each other
when a relationship breaks down, if you have any inkling that you are truly
'abused' contact a domestic abuse profession to guide you such as a therapist;
Eastside Domestic Violence; Police; an attorney, or Child Protective Services.
Check Resources for further referrals. It is
beyond the scope of this article to deal with this very special subject.
Negative and Positive Approach
There are two approaches to divorce, one negative and the other positive.
Both approaches concede that divorce is often heart-wrenching event. The
difference is essentially the speed and quality of recovery.
Negative Approach to Divorce
This Approach is summarized as follows: Divorce is a terrible trauma similar
to a death in the family. Recovery will take a minimum of two years on average
for you to focus your attentions on recovering and trying to move beyond
this loss. The emphasis of this approach is just getting over it.
Positive Approach to Divorce
Divorce is a terrible
trauma. However, like a death in the family you must accept it. Whereas,
grief is natural, giving your life new meanings and definitions helps to
reduce the grieving time. Not only must you focus on recovery; you must
focus on redefining your life. Furthermore, you should use the divorce as
a catalyst to change your life for the better. This is an opportunity to
develop your own personality and behavior without the constraints of the
prior relationship. It is an opportunity to pick up career and life goals
which may have been restricted by the marriage to your spouse. This is an
opportunity to create a bright new future. The choice is yours; you can
let divorce dwarf you for a while or even forever or open up great new possibilities
for personal fulfillment. Suggestion: Read Who Moved the Cheese by
Spencer Johnson, Kenneth H. Blanchard. This is a story of mice who learn
how to move on when it becomes clear the cheese has gone. The cheese represents
everything in our lives which no longer in exists. We must know when to
The following is a
guide to the entire divorce process i.e. mental preparation; the law and
legal process; negotiation; planning for your future financially, socially,
emotionally, and creating great possibilities for your exciting new life.
The reader should be aware that references to the law and legal process
are for Washington State only; the Resources
focus on King County.
One - Moving Away from Each Other Emotionally
The two of you are not communicating properly anymore; there is a lack of
closeness. There is a wall between you. There is suspicion and distrust.
You feel betrayed and let down. Your thoughts are moving towards divorce.
You are thinking of going to see an attorney just to see what your rights
would be if you decided to go ahead with divorce or it was forced upon you."
- Finding an Attorney and Defining Your Divorce
Although it is a very good idea to see what your potential rights and liabilities
are in case of a divorce, be aware that not all divorce attorneys are created
equally. You will notice by discussing your case with a selection of them,
that some of them build up your fears and distrust of the other spouse particularly
mentioning hiding of assets, kicking you out of the house, etc.; whereas,
others discuss a possibility of a negotiated settlement and trying to reduce
the stress of divorce with less negative impact on the children. The latter
group will also mention potential problems but will try to help you decide
what are reasonable fears and which are not. It is up to you how you wish
Personally, I am firmly
within the camp of attorneys who emphasize settlement if possible over
unnecessary litigation. The reasons why? Litigation is expensive, very
expensive. It can cost you many tens of thousands of dollars extra that
could have been saved for the family if at least one of you kept a cool
head. I am not saying that if you go into court over some disagreement
or disagreements that all is lost and that you will have a vicious and
extremely combative divorce. It is not uncommon to go into court, for
example to establish temporary orders i.e. pretrial issues such as finances,
parenting, and use of property pending your final divorce. The key, however,
is attitude. Getting a judge to make a decision can be done in a fashion
that does not have people at each otherís throats in a tit-for-tat combat.
A lot of the bloody divorce battles are caused by peopleís fears, anxieties,
and disappointments. If you can recognize these feelings for what they
are in you, and in your spouse, and learn to deal with them, IT WILL HELP
YOU TO TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR DIVORCE, RATHER THAN THE DIVORCE TAKING CONTROL
OF YOU. In addition to financial cost, the emotional cost of an all-out
battle can be devastating to you and your children. See the later discussion
of emotional effects of divorce in Emotional
Effects. If you are interested in attorneys who want the public to
know that they try to avoid unnecessary litigation, go to Attorney
Three - Establishing Your Divorce Mindset
and Taking Control of Your
that allowing negative feelings to get out of control means you will lose
control of your divorce. Can you really imagine trying to shape a life
for yourself as you negotiate your divorce (with our without an attorney)
when you are consumed by feelings of revenge, hurt, anger, or you are
abusing substances to such a degree you become an emotional mess? How
can you come to a workable parenting solution when you use the kids to
get back at your spouse? Is this the kind of relationship you want
with your kids? If you wanted someone to negotiate your divorce
for you and plan your life, would you choose someone like that? My guess
is your answer is 'no' unless, of course, you want an emotionally draining,
expensive, litigated battle. Then, my friend, that is what you will get.
If that is the case, do not bother to read on. For those still reading...
|Own up to
let them control you.
Here are some of the
feelings that you may be experiencing and suggestions as to how to tackle
This can take the form of anger at your spouse or anger at your situation
or both. Maybe your spouse has not treated you well. He or she may have
had an affair or have been emotionally or physically abusive to you. You
may feel anger towards your partner because he/she has not lived up to
expectations. You may feel angry at the relationship or at life as a whole.
'It just isnít fair' you think. You had designed your entire life around
this marriage. You thought it would go on forever. 'It should have!' You
think youíre entitled to have those expectations met. You are angry because
you may be not be able to socialize in the same way with the same people
if you split up; you may feel you canít afford to keep up the same lifestyle
without your spouse. You may feel convinced that your husband or wife
is a bad person, but you may also have a nagging doubt about whether you
have done something to contribute to this bad result in your marriage.
After all, you married this other person and loved them once. You ask,
'Is there something wrong with me?' You may turn this into anger against
self and blame yourself for what you probably see as the tragedy in your
Understand that in
most cases both parties blame the other one and many feel that maybe they
could have done something to save the marriage themselves. People tend
to feel anger whether they are the one who is leaving or the one who is
being left. Some things to tell yourself:
||In a few years
this entire episode will be part of my past and my emotional response
to it will be so very much less.
||I am a great
person, but I am not a perfect person. This goes for my spouse, too.
Who is a perfect person?
||I refuse to get
caught up in blame. This would make not make me bitter and stop me
Tip Ė Consult with
a therapist to help you work through these anger issues. The following
are some books dealing with anger:
of Anger: A Womanís Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships
by Harriet Lerner.
A Guide for Men: How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Get
More Out of Life by Thomas J. Harbin.
Workbook by Lorrinne Bilodau.
Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety,
Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness by Daniel
That Build: Self-esteem, Teamwork, Communication, Anger Management,
Self-discovery, and Coping Skills by Alanna E. Jones.
B. Insecure, Nervous
Not knowing what to expect is one of the worst things that can happen
|Fear of the unknown
is often much worse than the thing itself when it finally happens.
Whatís going to happen
to me during the divorce process? What will the divorce process look like?
What will my life look like afterwards? How will things look socially
for me? How will things look financially for me? Am I going to 'lose'
for getting through this mental anguish:
Find out the facts. You will feel a great sense of relief, even if the
news is bad. People usually do. They then start to accept and do what
they can to remedy a problem.
How will I survive financially? This is a fear suffered by both the wage
earning and the non-wage-earning spouse (underemployed spouses also fall
in this category). The non-wage-earning spouse is focused on how will
he or she get enough money out of spousal maintenance and/or job to make
ends meet. The wage-earning spouse is concerned that her/his income may
be spread too thin by keeping up two households, i.e. his or her own and
the other spouseís household through paying maintenance and child support.
Find out how much you need to survive by completing the Monthly
Expense Calculator. The Monthly Expense Calculator to calculate what
your expenses will be once you are separated from your spouse.
Now that you have
completed the Monthly Expense Calculator, you know what your monthly expenses
are. If children are an issue, you may be receiving or paying child support.
Provide a calculation of child support for yourself under the Child
Support Worksheets lists your monthly expenses. Use it or get a general
idea under the Child Support Calculator
The person who will
be paying child support needs to add this support to the list of expenses
to see how to make ends meet. The person who will be receiving child support
should deduct the amount of child support from the expenses as child support
covers some of the childrenís and general household expenses. The balance
will have to be made up through work of the non-earning spouse and/or
spousal maintenance (if the other spouse is able to pay it). You see how
all this works out? There is only a certain amount in the pot to be divided
to take care of everybodyís needs. The sensible divorcing person will
find out what is needed, what is available, and based on that, can make
a reasonable settlement proposal to the other side not based on fear of
the unknown, but on a knowledge of the facts. This is a much stronger
way to approach the divorce and will take much of the hysteria out of
fear of the unknown is the antithesis of control over your divorce,
so find out the facts!
Find out about the Legal Process, for example, how long the process will
take. What the forms looks like; Whether you have to go to court; What
is this thing called mediation? Do I have to litigate or can we negotiate
a settlement? How would we do that? Many of these questions are answered
under Legal Process. Familiarize yourself with
the Law and the process. These sections
naturally wonít tell you everything you need to know about the Law and
Process. You need to go to law school for that. However they will give
you a basic understanding and help you to talk reasonably with your attorney
about what you want and what is feasible. Everyone should consult an attorney
if possible. You will feel much better when you know what is likely to
happen and what possibilities are available to steer the divorce in the
direction you want.
Social Fears and
Establishing Your Own Identity. This is a tough one. When you have lived
with a person for an extended period of time, you cannot help but tie
your identity to some extent to that person. For example, you identify
with their social group. If they have a prestigious job, you may have
enjoyed considerable prestige being the wife or the husband of that person.
You may have gone so far as to have considered yourself an adjunct to
that person and have subdued your own identity in building up your spouse.
This is very difficult to overcome for anyone. Remember, you ARE an individual.
You always have been an individual even though you didnít realize it.
Now is the opportunity to blossom on your own in your own right. Yes,
it is frightening, but anything worth doing is frightening. You may need
some help from a therapist at least in the initial stages of your new
life development. See if your insurance coverage covers mental health
treatments. Some do. This is a good time to take part in support groups.
Some of those are Divorce Lifeline* which has groups for adults and children
(206) 624-2959; Bellevue Community College runs Women
in Transition (425) 641-564-2279 (they also have some men in these
classes) This program helps people get back to work and move forward with
their lives. Therapists* are also an excellent idea. Self-help books may
help: See Resources for further
support groups and books.
You are a unique person
and as such are lovable. Learn to love yourself for all the things youíve
done wrong, as well as those you have done right. It is all of this that
makes you the individual person you are. If everything you did and experienced
went well for you, how would the rest of us poor mortals relate to you
or you to us?
I heard a story in
church once when I was going through my divorce. It went something like
this. The only son of a poor woman died suddenly. She was grief stricken
and asked God what to do. God told her to out and find a family who had
never suffered. She went from one house to another. At each house she
was told that she had not found such a family. Eventually, she came to
a beautiful mansion. Now, surely, she thought these people have never
suffered. When she spoke to the lady of the house the poor women was so
moved by her story of loss and grief that she decided to go live with
the lady and help her as much as she could. She felt she had found someone
who had suffered more than she had. As the story goes, she put her own
grief aside and grew from the sense of fulfillment she experienced from
helping another. I would imagine that the poor woman learned to love herself
and love what she was doing with her life. After all, she may wrongly
have concluded that she was not a very valuable person after her son who
was everything to her died. What a shame that would have been.
||You are among
a huge group of fine people who get divorced for whatever reason.
||The divorce is
not who I am. It is merely something that is happening.
||This is not my
||I am lovable
C. Bad Personal
While a relationship is breaking up and throughout divorce, people tend
to adopt some very bad personal habits. Letís face it, itís hard to sleep;
itís hard to get up. You feel why bother? You overeat. You abuse substances.
I know itís tough not to do these things, but try to keep them to a minimum,
if you canít wipe them out altogether. One of the problems with these
bad habits is that they adversely affect your mindset for approaching
divorce. Alcohol, for example, can make you feel nervous and jittery;
it can get in the way of your sleep, and generally make you feel sick.
Overeating can make you feel bad about yourself, which is NOT where you
want to be when things are already going wrong around you in your relationship.
Lack of exercise is the same problem. You get sluggish, you feel hopeless,
and you are not getting those adrenaline rushes that make you feel good
about yourself. In summary, you feel lousy. How effective do you think
you are going to be in taking control of your divorce when you feel awful?
The answer is Ė You wonít be very effective!
Try to adopt better
body and mind habits. Reduce or eliminate overeating, and substance
abuse. Exercise. You will feel a lot better about yourself. You will clear
the mind, and you will feel that you are actually getting somewhere in
life. This is a very uplifting experience and will help you to take control
of your divorce and your life. If you have trouble, go to see a therapist.
Do not be embarrassed about that. Use other resources, such as Random
Acts to Lighten Up! by Katie Evans to tackle weight problems at www.lighten-up.com
You may find this book helpful for other concerns as it deals with a bad
habit, (overeating) from the inside out. Overeating like other bad habits
is a symptom of an internal struggle. Alcohol and other addictions are
addressed in the following:
Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Quitting Alcohol and Drugs by
Patrick Fanning, John OíNeill (Contributor).
Ė Naturally: Liberating Yourself from Tobacco, Caffeine, Sugar,Alcohol,
Prescription Drugs, cocaine, and Narcotics by Brigitte Mars.
Four - Get Ready to Start Your Divorce
Now you have your mindset reasonably under control and are ready for the
nitty-gritty of putting your divorce together. You need to now address the
law in light of what you would like to get out of the divorce and come up
with reasonable parameters for settlement and be ready to settle. For this
you will need to review the following sections:
Five - Start Your Divorce
- (a) The
Legal Process from Start to Finish
- (b) The
- (c) Financial
Planning, Taxes and Divorce
- (d) Emotional
- (e) Career
You are as ready
as youíre ever going to be, so get on with it. Either do it yourself (generally
not advisable) or select an attorney to do it for you. If you want one of
the attorneys who adhere to the creed
of professionalism, click here.
Whether or not you
have an attorney, see How to Negotiate a Settlement
and Avoid Trial regarding negotiation tips.
You can find the legal
forms for your divorce at Forms.
Other sources are listed in the Resources.
How to Negotiate
a Settlement and Avoid Trial.
Remember that in most cases both parties are petrified of going through
divorce. This is so whether they want to have the divorce or do not want
to have the divorce. Common concerns:
||Making it financially
||The social implications
(who will my circle of friends be now?)
find me attractive again (yes they will, but it is something people
||A sense of failure
Knowing that the other
side has his or her own fears, should be a considerable help to you in
your divorce negotiations. This applies whether you negotiate through
an attorney or just the two spouses. For discussions on Settlement and
Mediation options, see Law.
||Know what the
law is and work out the parameters for reasonable settlement.
||See where there
may be a ďgive and takeĒ natural to a negotiated settlement. You know
your areas of give and take. Try to work out what your spouses are.
good way to achieve a settlement is to put yourself as much as you
can in the shoes of the other party. Pretend that you ARE that person.
A technique that is often used in negotiation exercises is to put
two chairs facing each other. You state your peace. Then you move
to the other chair and pretend to be the other party. You state peace
of the other party from their point of view. You then switch back
to your chair and play your own role again. Try not to identify too
particularly with any particular role. While you are playing the male
(you are female) really play that role. Understand that personís hopes
and fears as they approach this divorce. Try to identify your spouseís
major issues. They may not be your major issues, but if they are important
to the other side, they could hold up a settlement. Sometimes if you
give a little on a matter that is of great importance to the other
side, you may win a greater prize in your own eyes in the end. The
reason for this is, if one person finds one thing very important,
they may well be willing to compromise on an issue that you find very
important if they can succeed on theirs.
||Keep anger, blaming
comments and nasty comments out of the proceeding. This type of conduct
is the surest way to bring settlement negotiations to a speedy end,
reopen wounds, and have the two of you battling in court at a great
emotional and financial expense.
||Treat the other
spouse and his/her attorney if applicable with respect. A good way
to act is to look at the other person in the eye (if possible during
this tough time). The purpose of this is to look like you are concentrating
and giving them respect. Hear them out. Listen to what they have to
say. Really listening encourages the other side to continue negotiation
and helps you to see the strengths and weaknesses of their case.
Skills by Tim Hirdle
to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury
luck with your negotiations!
Six - The End of Your Divorce
You have already started to plan your new life before you started the
divorce. You knew then what you wanted to get out of the divorce, and
as the divorce progressed, you found out how much in fact you will get.
So, you came to a settlement within the reasonable parameters that you
set out before negotiation, and now that the divorce is final. You know
what you have after the divorce. You can actively pursue your new life.
You have the money; you are free of the influence of the other spouse.
|You are ready
to pursue your new exciting life.
For those of you who
are still clinging on to the old marriage, re-read: Who Moved the Cheese
by Spencer, M.D. Johnson and Kenneth H. Blanchard. Your divorce is done.
It is time to find a new cheese. Do it!
Seven - Your Exciting New Life
Tips for Finding the New Cheese: Web sites such as www.transformation.org
may assist you in finding out who are, who you would like to be, and what
kind of work you would like to go into long term. This site charges a
fee for use. (Consult with your Therapist.
If you have not already done so consider your future career. You should
have done this, preferably at Stage 3 or at the beginning of Stage 4,
when you getting ready to embark on the divorce process. Consult Career
Consultants*. They are worth their money. Find out about available courses
at your local community or technical colleges or university to improve
your skills. See Resources* for some examples. It is better to budget
early in the divorce process how much money it will take to do what you
intend to do with your new life and made this part of your divorce settlement
but IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO GET YOUR LIFE IN ORDER. This is also a good
time to tackle the self-help books as we try to make ourselves into the
kind of people we would like to be and make sure that we avoid the old
traps which led us into the first relationship or led to its demise. See
resources for Reading suggestions. Try a search
on book sites such as www.Amazon.com
to find books or tapes in the area of self-improvement which interests
or concerns you."