With the holidays behind us, many couples will come to the conclusion this month that it’s time to call it quits. It’s never an easy call to make, but you know it’s the right thing to do when the tension at home is simply unbearable, and the weight of all the anger or sadness you are carrying inside feels like barbells tied to your feet that are making you sink deeper and deeper into a sea of despair while all hope of things improving this year gets sucked away along with the oxygen you so desperately need to survive.
When staying together is no longer an option, my first tip would be to go seek professional advice from a counselor because the hardest job you will face this year is dealing with all the emotions and transitions that are normally part of any divorce. It is normal to grieve the loss of your dream of a happily ever after with your spouse, and no one will blame you for feeling angry that you may now have to radically change your life, including where you live and how often you see your kids.
Divorce sucks, and unlike those that experience the loss of a spouse through a death, there is no generous life insurance check coming your way to ease your transition phase, and don’t count on too many friends dropping by with baked goods, sending you flowers and/or gathering for a ceremony to help you gain closure. Nope, most likely you’ll be hosting your own private pity party that drags on for about a year, during which time you need to find your own inner strength to lift your spirits, get you through all the tasks associated with unraveling your affairs with your estranged spouse, and move on to a life where you finally get to redefine yourself in your own way.
Of course, to make your new single status official, there is a legal process you will need to deal with, and the more you separate the emotions from this process, the better off you will be. Remember, divorce court is not criminal court— the family courts are not designed to punish someone because the marriage didn’t work out. Instead, family cases are mostly viewed as partnerships that need to be dissolved in a fair and reasonable manner that promotes the best interest of the children. End of story.
To move through the court process as efficiently as possible, the most important decision you must make right away is identifying the right person to guide you through the court process, someone with experience that you can trust. And here’s the reality- an experienced attorney with a great reputation won’t come cheap, but you don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish in this scenario.
Luckily, there is a lot that a couple can do to minimize the legal expenses in a custody or divorce case. Here are a few key money-saving tips:
1. Avoid litigation— going to court can be very expensive. Instead, try going to a mediator, where you will only being paying for that one professional’s time as opposed to two separate attorneys. If sitting in one room together isn’t an appealing option, then one person can go consult with an attorney first and have a Separation Agreement drafted, then the other partner can set up a consult with an attorney of his/her own choosing simply to review the proposal. Ultimately, the more negotiating the parties can do on their own and the more information they can exchange freely and voluntarily about their income, assets and liabilities, the less they will have to spend paying professionals to do this.
2. Family counseling– Especially for couples with children, it is important for parents to learn to filter their anger and/or disappointment that normally comes with the decision to separate. While each parent can see his/her individual counselor to process the emotions associated with the divorce, a joint professional can help them develop a plan for how to assist the kids through the transition phase and create a time-sharing schedule that works best for that particular family.
3. Financial Advisors– Setting up your own household budget, and making major decisions about investments, including the marital home and retirement assets, should not be done without consulting a financial expert. These professionals can also run projections based on the division of assets and expected support. Major money decisions need to be carefully considered, and it is wise to seek the counsel of someone who is not emotionally involved in the divorce.
4. Collaborate– Some people may not willing to mediate, but are open to a mediation-style dispute resolution format, where each party can bring his/her own counsel to a 4-way meeting with the goal of finding a resolution that avoids the need for costly litigation. If a Collaborative Divorce isn’t a viable option, at least the couple can minimize certain expenses by hiring mutually agreed to experts re the finances and/or custody issues.
In the end, if you have to part ways, know that most people won’t question the why, but how you untie the knot is going to be subject to a lot of scrutiny. Do you act impulsively and irrationally, or do you take your time to consider the best options? Do you want to be the kind of person that does his/her best to mitigate damages or the kind that goes for scorched earth because s/he is blinded by vengeance? Will you be the open and honest spouse that cooperates with disclosing all the marital assets, or the kind that cannot be trusted because s/he hid money, raided accounts, and failed to provide basic information? Will you be seen as the parent who put his/her child’s interests above all else, or the kind that used the children as pawns to extract revenge against the other parent?
Ultimately, how you divorce will say volumes about your integrity and character. Most of my clients do the right thing, not just because I tell them to do so, but more importantly because in the end they love themselves and their children more than they hate their spouses. In other words, the disappointment and anger they feel towards their spouse is immense, but it does not overpower them to the point that they will lower their standard of conduct for themselves or risk the safety and security of their children.
It is a choice to part ways with dignity, and not an easy one at that, but it is one you will never regret.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.