Television and movies often show the flashy sides of divorce by portraying heated courtroom showdowns, spouses hiding money in Swiss bank accounts, and confrontations about steamy extramarital affairs. While some of these scenes can be derived from real life, most real people going through divorce are stressed out and focused on one thing: surviving the emotional trauma.
As a family law attorney, I’ve witnessed divorcing couples on each side of the spectrum – from couples who are overwhelmingly amicable to those who are hardly speaking. One thing I can tell you for sure is that amicable divorces not only save you time and money, but they can also minimize the potential for any additional stress and trauma. If you’re contemplating divorce, or you’re in the middle of one now, I have a few tips about how you can avoid a divorce war.
But first, let’s talk about the divorce process. When potential clients come to my office for a consultation, it’s important to demystify the process. Generally, I explain it this way: When a couple marries, their lives often become intertwined by buying things together (house, cars, furniture), taking on joint debts (mortgages, credit cards, auto loans), and perhaps the additional responsibility of raising children together. When that couple chooses to part ways, the following three decisions must be made:
1. With respect to property and assets: Who gets what?
2. With respect to debts and other financial obligations: Who is responsible for what?
3. Where children (or pets) are involved: How will parenting time (and expenses) be divided or shared?
To the extent that a couple can make these three central decisions on their own, they may be able to avoid going to court to ask a judge to make these decisions for them. I am a strong advocate of couples, and especially those with children, choosing to take control of their outcomes. Think about it – who really wants a judge who doesn’t know you or your child to decide when you can spend time together? Avoiding a trial not only saves you time and money, but it gives you and your spouse the ability to compromise on your own terms. In order to help you avoid a divorce war and communicate amicably with your spouse, consider these tips:
1. Put your personal feelings about your spouse aside. This is one of the hardest things to do, especially if your relationship ended badly. Nonetheless, it’s important to try to eliminate any thoughts of retaliation and to be aware of any inclinations you may have to hurt the other person because you have been hurt. In the end, if you are certain you don’t want to remain married to your spouse, try to rise above your feelings and focus on a fair and practical way to move forward.
2. Being a bad spouse is not always synonymous with being a bad parent. Just because your spouse mishandled your relationship doesn’t mean he or she isn’t a good parent. If you didn’t have any problem with your kids sharing a home with the other parent during the marriage, try not to create irrational fears or concerns that may not be rooted in reality. Of course, if there is a documented history of neglect or physical, mental, or emotional abuse, those concerns should not be minimized, and you should seek professional resources and assistance for yourself and your children in those circumstances.
3. Communicate with each other civilly. Nothing derails an opportunity for productive communication as quickly as disrespectful or derogatory comments. Do your best to remain civil and even-toned with your spouse. Choose your words carefully, and remember your end goal is to avoid a war and move on with your life. Also, remember that text messages, social media posts, and all electronic communications have the potential to last forever. Before you write anything, consider if you would be proud to have it put on display in front of others. Chances are, if you end up in a divorce war, that may happen.
4. Be willing to compromise. You may have some things that you’re not willing to budge on, whether this involves possessions, or how to allocate retirement accounts between you and your spouse. In this respect, consider that your spouse may have some non-negotiables, too. Try to prioritize the things that are most important to you, and be flexible on the rest.
5. Try mediation. There are several trained family counselors and retired judges who offer mediation as an alternative to litigating your divorce. These options are generally less expensive and much faster than using formal discovery and waiting for a court date. Perhaps with the guidance of a professional, you and your spouse can find a way to resolve your issues without litigation and without spending thousands on your divorce.
If you and your spouse are willing to exercise these tips, you might find that divorce can be amicable without depleting your finances. You may be surprised how much you and your spouse can accomplish if you both focus on the end goal instead of the circumstances that brought you there.