During a fight or times of high stress in a relationship, it’s normal to have reactive thoughts about divorce or separation. But if those feelings persist and unresolved issues, tension, anger and frustration continue during calmer moments of reflection, it may be time to do some research and begin having exploratory conversations—with yourself, a lawyer, financial advisor, therapist and finally, your spouse—to help navigate the situation and figure out what’s right for you.
Divorce is never easy, and dissolving a marriage also requires making decisions about your family’s financial and custodial arrangement. If you’ve exhausted other options and divorce is looking like the next step, here are five crucial conversations to have before filing:
Begin with yourself. If you are contemplating divorce, ask yourself what you want your life to look like after the divorce is finalized, and is it a realistic picture.. Are you prepared to share custody of your children, including not living with them some days each week? How will you manage the financial responsibilities of your individual household? What impact will this have on your lifestyle, your career and your children and what changes may need to occur as you transition into the post-divorce dynamic? Will a non-working spouse need to get a job? Will discretionary expenses need to be curbed as the family needs to support two households instead of one? Thinking about the real-world implications of a divorce, in addition to the relief you hope to feel after the process is complete, will help you embark on the process with clarity and purpose.
Your attorney: As you consider whether divorce is the right path for your family, it’s important to find a skilled divorce attorney who is a good match for you and your needs. Don’t be tempted to work with someone who quotes the lowest rate or who only dabbles in family law. Instead, focus on finding qualified counsel, with experience in the matrimonial courts in your area, who is a good personality fit for you, but will also be an assertive advocate and whose advice and motives you trust. Have your prospective lawyer walk you through their approach to divorce, including some of the pre-divorce options if you are considering those, how the process typically unfolds, what timeline you might expect given your circumstances and what costs outside of their fees might be involved (private investigators, forensic accountants, court-appointed experts, etc.). Ask lots of questions, take notes and listen carefully to the information they provide in order to make an informed choice in selecting your attorney.
Your financial advisor or accountant: When preparing to file for divorce it’s helpful to understand your financial picture– income sources, cash flow, location and categories of assets and liabilities – and to understand how they may be treated by the court. All of these considerations will impact how you fare financially in your divorce settlement, including the value and kinds of assets to which you may be entitled as well as the amount of support, if any, you may receive to help in meeting your post-divorce expenses. If you are out of the loop on household finances or believe that your soon-to-be ex might make it difficult for you to access financial information, now is the time to gather account information and passwords for joint assets as well as other crucial financial information that will help in defining the financial landscape. Speaking with your financial advisor or accountant can help you gain a better understanding of where you stand financially, as well as prepare you to take on the cost of divorce and reduce the monetary stress related to the split – but understand that if your accountant or financial advisor work for you and your spouse, he or she may not be able to advise you individually or keep your communications confidential. Collecting the financial information for you and your spouse may be something you can do jointly, at least initially, to help decrease costs and ensure equal access to the necessary information.. If you don’t have a handle on your financial picture, an experienced matrimonial attorney will obtain a complete picture for you.
Your therapist: Going through a divorce is one of the most stressful life changes a person can experience. In addition to leaning on a support system of trusted friends and family, working with a mental health professional can help you navigate the challenges involved in the divorce process – from communicating clearly with your soon-to-be-ex, to helping your children cope and managing your own anxieties.
What’s more, if you struggle with depression, substance abuse, or other mental health issues, it is especially critical that you take care of yourself and make sure that the divorce doesn’t exacerbate your struggle or derail progress you’ve already made. This is particularly important if child custody will be part of your divorce negotiations because it will be necessary that you can demonstrate to the court that you are responsibly and successfully managing and issues that otherwise could impact your parental fitness. Courts have become much more educated about mental health and addiction issues, so there is less of a concern that a treatment history or diagnosis will adversely impact your parenting rights, as long as you are open, honest, and prepared to prove your compliance with the appropriate treatment for your condition.
Your Family: The most important discussions about divorce are those you will have with your spouse and, ultimately, your children. If the dynamics allow—e.g., there is not a significant power imbalance or history of domestic violence—it is best to inform your spouse directly of your desire to start the process in a calm moment, without anger, instead of through communications from an attorney or in the midst of an argument. Setting a good tone for how you communicate about the decision to divorce can help ameliorate and de-escalate much hostility throughout the divorce process.
Getting a divorce is a huge upheaval for the family, but you and your spouse control how contentious the process will be, and the more able you are to work together, the less adversarial the process will be. If you have children, their physical and emotional wellbeing should take priority over feelings of anger and sadness and the more united you and your spouse can be in the messages you provide about the divorce, the better your children will be.’ Remember that children are going to process divorce through a different lens than you and your spouse, and your complaints about your partner as a spouse will not necessarily be applicable as criticisms of their parenting..
It’s common to feel frustrated, upset and disappointed if you are heading towards a divorce, whether you feel the choice was yours or your spouse’s, but after having these five conversations, you can move forward with the confidence that you made an informed decision and are pursuing it in the manner that will do the least damage to your family.