A major life event accompanied by a broad range of legal considerations, divorce can become overwhelming, even when both parties enter into it amicably. The process of gathering and poring over financial documentation, determining an appropriate split of assets, considering what’s best for the children, and negotiating the details of the settlement can be ponderous, intimidating and, yes, stress-inducing.
But you can take actions to keep your stress level in check and empower yourself to stay emotionally strong throughout the divorce process. Here’s what we recommend:
Choose an attorney who makes you feel comfortable. People often believe that engaging a big-name lawyer or a “shark” known for their aggressive tactics ensures that they will get what they want from their divorce, particularly in high-conflict circumstances. In reality, these attorney-client relationships frequently turn out to be mismatches.
Here’s why: First, that lawyer may take your case but then not have time to manage it on a day-to-day basis, so your case may get assigned to an associate (whom you did not choose). Second, you may find that the aggressive demeanor of your attorney causes them to be abrupt in communications with you as well, making you less inclined to ask questions or talk things over during this time when your understanding of the situation is so critical. Your lawyer might also press unnecessary issues, such as insisting on court proceedings when you could quite feasibly settle out of court. Finally, his or her pugnacious approach with opposing counsel may ratchet up the level of hostility, making the nature of the process more adversarial and stressful than it needs to be. Suddenly, the case is about the lawyers and not the parties.
The bottom line is that your attorney’s personality can be of comfort to you during this experience, or it can contribute to your stress level. It’s important to select a lawyer who is not only good at what they do – but also accessible, compassionate and communicative.
Understand the divorce process. As in most situations, knowledge is power. At your first meeting with your attorney, make sure they explain the options for how your case is handled, reasons you might end up in court, and what you should expect in terms of the divorce process. Ask questions about anything that’s not clear to you, so that you feel at ease about moving forward. Throughout the process, your lawyer can share valuable perspectives with you, from helping you understand financial documents that become part of the negotiations to describing the courtroom setting to you, if it is determined that you will go to court. It is important to take an active role in your divorce so that you are capable of making informed decisions.
Manage your communication. It is also important to your emotional well-being for you to streamline your communication. Before the many pieces of information start flowing, let your lawyer know if you prefer to communicate by phone or email, and what time of day is most convenient for you to talk or receive correspondence.
We find it is often helpful for clients to set aside a certain time each day for reading and responding to divorce-related emails, rather than being distracted by them throughout the day at any moment they arrive in your inbox. Likewise, keep a running list of questions for your lawyer and send them one summary email each day or week, depending on the urgency. Designating a time slot for addressing correspondence means that you don’t need to be concerned with it the rest of the day. You can maintain focus on the other aspects of your life while having the peace of mind that you are also efficiently managing your divorce.
Establish a support system. Although your attorney will provide advice about the practical side of your divorce, a personal support team is essential to helping you manage the associated emotions. Carefully choose the friend(s) or relative(s) who can support you with good judgment, compassion and strength of spirit, and assess whether hiring a divorce coach or seeing a therapist might be helpful during this time. (While therapy records may be subject to review by the court and/or the other party in custody disputes, generally courts will only require access to such records where mental health concerns are alleged to be affecting parenting capacity.)
Some clients choose to bring a friend or relative along to meetings with their attorney, which is fine as long as you understand that attorney-client privilege is forfeited when another person is in the room. Sometimes just having your support person in the waiting room or available to talk with you when you get home is enough to help you feel calm and comfortable.
Choosing your ideal team — the right lawyer and support network — can make your divorce much less stressful. And when you equip yourself with knowledge and have a solid plan for managing day-to-day communication, you empower yourself to take on the experience with confidence, competence and positivity.