February 25th, 2021
Whether you made this decision or it was made for you, here you are.
So what do you do now?
Lawyer up, right?
🙅🏼♀️ Wrong 🙅🏼♀️
“Lawyer up” is the most dangerous advice you can take from anyone, especially someone who doesn’t know the ins and outs of your specific marriage and divorce.
As soon as you “lawyer up” you may be headed down the road of adversity and conflict, and the ones who will suffer most from this are your kids. But there are ways to avoid expensive and emotionally taxing divorce litigation.
Here’s what you should do, in this order.
- Process your emotions. This can take years, of course, but before you begin any divorce proceedings it’s important for you to get your emotions in check. When you get divorced, you’re making the biggest legal and financial decisions of your life in the midst of the biggest emotional upheaval of your life. This is a terrible combination. If you go into divorce in the heat of emotions, it could cost you tens of thousands of dollars more than if you cool off for a bit before moving forward. (This is what my program helps with.) Your job right now is to stay as far away from Family Court as possible. Trust me, you do not want to litigate. If you “lawyer up” when you’re full of blame and resentment you may as well call ahead and reserve your trial date and cash out your 401K.
- Get your financials in order. No matter what kind of divorce you anticipate (amicable or contentious), having all your financial ducks in a row before dropping the bomb is probably a good idea. If you’re in a financially abusive marriage, this step is paramount. You will need copies of all financial documents available to you (and if you’re married, all financial documents should be available to you. If they’re not, you are likely being financially abused. Listen to this podcast episode about that.) Make copies of all current bank statements, mortgage statements, investment accounts, credit card statements and retirement accounts. This might be a good time for you to hire a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. These are people who specialize in helping you sort through your financials and then make a solid plan for you moving forward. If you don’t do this now, you may want to do this down the line.
- Consult with an attorney. Notice I didn’t say “hire an attorney.” Consult with one. Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn’t have any consistent divorce laws, so finding out the laws in your state is important. Please don’t take divorce advice from anyone who isn’t an attorney in your state, or who hasn’t been through a divorce in your state (even then, all divorces are different). Getting information from an attorney in your state about your state’s child and spousal support laws, how assets are divided, etc. will help you stay out of a spiral of “what ifs.” Remember, knowledge is power. Not power over your soon-to-be-ex (stbx), but simply personal power. If you have people trying to scare you with horror stories about other people’s divorces, or even their own, knowing the truth about how things work in your state gives you a lot of power over the fear that could engulf you.
- Tell your spouse. It may seem counterintuitive to tell them at this juncture — like, shouldn’t that be the first thing you do? And in some cases, absolutely. But if there’s any chance of conflict between you two, getting your ducks in a row first may be smart. You know your spouse best. Will they immediately become enraged and vindictive? If so, follow steps 1-3 first. If not, then have the conversation first. This is left to your discretion. How do you have this conversation? There is a very specific way to do this that will keep the conflict low and keep you from getting sucked into too much drama. I’ve outlined that here. Do NOT skip reading this blog post!!
- Pause and breathe. You’ve had the conversation, so your impulse may be to rush through the rest of this process as quickly as possible. STOP. Do nothing. Allow the dust to settle. Again, making decisions during emotional upheaval is a terrible idea. And even though you may have been thinking about this for a long time, this is still new information to your spouse, and they need time to process (even if you’ve told them a million times before, trust me, they weren’t expecting you to ever follow through on this). If you are the one who’s just been told, you’re well within your rights to ask for some time to process the emotional fallout of all of this. Don’t skip this step. It’s important for how things unfold moving forward, and will go a long way towards keeping you out of costly litigation. This is a great time to hire a coach who specializes in this area. (Caveat: if you are in physical or emotional danger, then you should have a safety plan in place, and you should follow that.)
- Make as many plans as possible before telling your kids. There is a lot to work through before you tell your kids. Especially for young kids, it’s important that all decisions are made in advance so you have concrete information to give them when you have the conversation with them. This may mean an extended period of living together while separated, and while that’s no fun for anyone, if you’re safe, it’s what’s best, and will give you some time to plan.
- Tell your kids. This is the hardest part, I’m not going to lie. And there are steps to take and ways to have this conversation that will make things a lot smoother. I outline them in my Ultimate Divorce Survival Guide. Seriously. Get that guide. Here are some top tips from it:
- Have the conversation together and present a unified front. I don’t care who did what to whom, it’s none of your kids’ business. For the purposes of this conversation, you are in agreement. This is non-negotiable.
- Give them all of the information you have so they’re not confused. Tell them all the plans: custody arrangements, who will live where, who will take them to school and pick them up, etc. Be as specific and concrete as possible.
- Tell the children over and over again that it’s not their fault. Younger children especially have brains that haven’t developed beyond themselves, so they biologically think everything is about them. Offset this by constant reassurance.
- Stick to the facts. They will ask “why” stick to your original talking points, which should be age-appropriate. Remember: you control this narrative.
- Honor their feelings. Let your kids be mad, or cry, or rage or shut down. Empathize and say that you know it’s hard, and that it’s hard on you too, and that you also feel angry, sad, etc. If they respond with “Then why are you doing this??” return to your first conversation and the script you worked out about what to say.
- Hire a divorce coach. This may seem like an unnecessary part of your team, but trust me when I tell you that having a divorce coach on your side will be invaluable, and can save you thousands of dollars in the long run. As a divorce coach, I help my clients process through the emotional fallout of their marriages, help them strategize next steps, and, because c, I help them script all the difficult conversations they have to have along the way. For more about what divorce coaches do, watch this IG Live I did with Susan Guthrie about why, as a divorce attorney, she thinks working with a divorce coach is so important. This step can happen at any time in this process. To learn more about how I work with clients click here.
- Shoot for mediation. In order to save money and stress on an expensive litigation process, if at all possible, hire a mediator. Pretty much anyone can call themselves a mediator, be sure to find one who has been well trained. Susan Guthrie is always my top recommendation for mediation, and she trains mediators all over the country. She will probably have a good recommendation for your area. There is a common misconception that you can’t mediate with a high-conflict personality, and that’s simply not true. In fact, it may be in your best interest to do so, but again, be sure your mediator is trained and highly skilled in this area. You may also want to look into Collaborative Divorce, which is another form of divorce process that involves an entire team of professionals.
The Family Law system is a $50 Billion industry that relies on your anger to keep it afloat. There are very few divorces that actually need to go through litigation, yet so many end up there by default because people don’t know another way to do it. Now you do.