Divorce is the one life transition in which every aspect of your life changes simultaneously – social, emotional and financial.
It is an extremely painful experience for both partners regardless of who ultimately decides to initiate the process. In many instances, the person filing has been emotionally abandoned or betrayed – essentially dumped – years before deciding to file formal papers. So while he or she may look like the “decision maker”, this person feels like the one who has been left.
However, if you are the initiator, you have had time to plan, gather information, and even begin the grieving process. You feel more empowered than your partner caught by surprise. That said, even if you are the initiator, once the process starts, it tends to take on a life of its own. Requests for data and information come from every corner, your emotions are overwhelmed and you are operating from a place of reaction.
It’s very easy to get swept up in the giant wave that is the divorce process and feel spit out in a haze a few months later. Don’t let this be you.
Over the next 5 posts, I’ll be sharing what I learned going through my own divorce last year in hopes that this may make your own experience a little easier. My intention is to help you feel more empowered amidst a process that makes the strongest of us feel helpless.
Nugget Number One: Know Your Options!
Knowledge is powerful. If you are contemplating leaving your partner, you need to find out about your legal and financial options. As amicable and friendly as you envision it will be, divorce can and often does get ugly. Why is this when you are two civilized, rational people? Because even in the most amicable processes, you are breaking stuff apart – your family, your assets, and your heart.
Simply put, people are not at their best.
In my own case, my former husband and I started out by agreeing to use one attorney and handle most things ourselves. Then a couple of months later, I received an email from the attorney telling me that my husband had hired his own and the plans had changed.
This is why it pays to be educated about the process, because it can and does change. If you have done your homework, you will be less likely to feel desperate and overwhelmed at every twist and turn.
What (A Good) Attorney Can Tell You
Consult with an attorney even if you feel you will not go the litigation route. There are many organizations through which you can have a free hour consultation. Some attorneys will offer this as well. Yes, you can find a lot of information on line, but to get your particular questions answered and glean an overall feel for your situation, an in-person meeting is preferable.
Choose an attorney who is well versed in all three forms of dissolution – mediation, litigation and the collaborative process. Ask about the pros and cons of each with regard to your particular situation. If you are in Connecticut, here is a great website about the collaborative divorce process: http://www.ctcollaborativedivorce.com/.
Get a brief understanding of what the laws are in your state. For example:
- Is it a community property state? If so, what are the ramifications?
- Is it a no-fault state?
- Is alimony available in your state and how many years do you need to be married to qualify?
- What are the rules about leaving the marital home if you have children?
- If you have children, what things do you need to be sure to consider?
Ask; Don’t Assume
If you are a single parent or someone making low or no income, don’t assume that you won’t be able to extricate from the marriage. Ask. You may be very surprised to hear the options available. A good attorney will tell you likely outcomes based on court precedent and his or her own experience.
A good attorney is an educator with a lot of experience and a reasonable demeanor. He or she will ask intelligent questions and not indulge your revenge fantasies.
In the next post, we’ll talk money and how important it is know your finances (and what that looks like.)
If you are in the Hartford, Connecticut area, I will be facilitating a 90-minute panel discussion about (smart) divorce on February 17th at Jewish Family Services in West Hartford. The panel will consist of two attorneys, a financial strategist, and a mental health professional. In addition to providing a wealth of information, there will be an opportunity to ask questions. Details on my website next week.