Answers to all the questions that feel too overwhelming to ask – or maybe even formulate.

First off, what is divorce?

You’d think it would be obvious. After all, everyone knows someone who has been or is getting divorced. But it’s not. Divorce isn’t rocket science. But it’s confusing and a process. It’s essentially filing a lawsuit and as we all know, when a lawsuit is filed, you enter the legal system. & if you’ve ever dealt with a bureaucracy before (think: a frustrating encounter with the Department of Motor Vehicles), you know that there’s a game and you have to play it (correctly), to get through it. 

Lots of things. But what is it for purposes of the law?

Divorce is the dissolving of a legal marriage. You are dissolving the most complicated financial (and emotional) contract of your life (or maybe not the “most” complicated – but it certainly ranks up there). 

There are two big pieces of divorce. (1) The legal (aka procedural); and (2) The substantive (the issues). There’s an emotional aspect as well – I’m not a robot after all. But it’s simply not the subject of this post. For support on the breakup stuff, head to Hello Divorce – our lifestyle section and blog are loaded with awesome info to help you move on. 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming:

You need to handle the legal (prepare the forms (pleadings), file and serve them correctly) and the substantive (figure out how all the “stuff” will be handled – like child support, child custody, property and debt and spousal support). 

How do you get divorced?

Well, in the past, you either (a) fumbled with it on your own with the assistance of a DIY book, google and maybe by waiting in a long line at the self-help resource center at your local court. Or (b) you retained a lawyer to handle it all. 

Should I go at it alone?

If you want to make yourself crazy. Repeat, it’s not rocket science. Also repeat, it’s confusing and a process. There’s no “easy” way. No matter what you have to follow the rules and if you’ve got loads of time and patience – go for it. Otherwise, no, you shouldn’t go at it alone.

So I need to hire a lawyer then? 

Also no. Or no for most people. If you’ve got seriously complex issues or your ex is a narcissist and is impossible to deal with or throwing legal mumble jumble at you every five minutes – you might need to retain a lawyer from the start (if you can afford it). But even then, it’s important to help guide your case, keep it on track and take an active role. (a topic for another post). 

*If you’re in the SF Bay Area, check out our firm, Levine Family Law Group.

Well then, guide me please. Where do I turn for help?

Glad you asked. You could start with Divorceify. Use their Divorce GPS to get matched with the legal help and resources best suited for your situation. 

You may want to consider other options besides “lawyering up” from the start. Sometimes that causes stress and anxiety – which leads to fear and your spouse “acting out.” If you can start with some ground rules around your “breakup budget”, what professionals you both will hire to help you through divorce etc – you’ll fair much better. 

If you are in California (other states coming soon), you can use our Divorce Navigator (think: Turbo Tax for divorce) to handle the legal or level up to Divorce Plus to have a legal assistant walk you and/or your soon-to-be-ex through the entire divorce. When and if you need some help with the substantive part of your divorce (negotiating with your ex), you can access a lawyer or mediator in increments as small as 30 minutes. Request a quote here or schedule a free 15 minute call. 

You could consider online mediation with Breaking Free or hire a local mediator (a third party neutral like a certified lawyer/mediator or Certified Divorce Financial Planner) to help you and your ex come to an agreement on all property, debt, kid stuff and support).

You could work through the forms on your own or with our Divorce Navigator and hire a “limited scope” lawyer to help you along the way with everything from reviewing and revising your forms to appearing at a child support hearing. If you are short on cash and want to hire a lawyer to represent you for a small piece of your case, give court buddy a call. 

How long will it take?

First, let me remind you – you have to get comfortable in the grey. Rushing to an agreement (except in the rare short term, no property cases) can backfire on you. There’s a lot to consider – everything from budget, to schedule, to which assets/ debts make the most financial sense for you to take. That being said, if you are prepared and your spouse is motivated to work towards an agreement, you can get through your divorce pretty quickly (2 – 6 months). 

Just remember, even if you complete your paperwork quickly, most states have a waiting period (in California it’s six months) that you must satisfy before your officially divorced.

What else?

Lots. But you don’t need to know everything at once. You can take your time. Gather good information from good sources like Hello Divorce, Survive Divorce, I’ve Moved On, Divorce Force, Worthy and these podcasts: Divorce and Other Things You Can Handle, Breaking Free, and Divorce Well.Then decide your best course of action. Have a strategy. That strategy might change – and that’s ok – but having one in place will make you feel more empowered and in control. The bottom line is this: I know (from years of experience) that you can and will come out of your divorce — likely in a better place than you ever have been. It takes a lot of self-work but with the right strategy, support, and some serious self-love, this experience will catapult you into the next stage of your beautiful life.