If we asked 100 divorced couples if it’s possible to have a painless divorce, the answers would likely be split down the middle. The “of course it can be done” and the “absolutely no way in heck” responses would be about equal. Why the disparity? Because like anything that involves emotions and determinations of fault, opinions will vary widely. After decades of experience in family law, I can tell you that not only is it possible to have a (relatively) painless divorce, it is vastly preferable to the alternative. Here are a few of my observations that may help during the process.
Get your documents in order
This is best done early, because no matter what happens, you’ll need to document your income, assets, and expenses for disclosure. Insurance policies, employee benefits, and other pertinent information will also be needed. These take a while to gather and handling everything early will avoid stress later. It is strongly advisable not to hide anything – your spouse can trigger a more detailed investigation, and the court will not be happy with deception.
Assemble some support
Your support won’t just include legal personnel – you will need advisors, friends and possibly a therapist. Be careful who you talk to, because some “friends” might decamp for the other side, and your secrets go with them. Many churches sponsor groups for men and women going through divorce, and it can be invaluable to be able to share in this forum. Believe me, even an amicable divorce proceeding is a lonely journey without support.
Know the law
This is important because people sometimes get fully entrenched in a position that may not be supported by law. For example, some state courts practice equitable division of assets (as opposed to dividing current assets in half). In these situations, there are a number of factors that are reviewed by the court, and one party may receive less than they feel is fair. Texas is a community property state, not an “equitable division” state, which makes it important to consult an attorney (and not listen to your friends or Google!)
Investigate alternatives to court
Couples don’t have to wind up as adversaries in the courtroom. Most courts require mediation if an agreement cannot be reached before there can be a trial. Mediation involves meeting with a neutral third-party professional along with your attorney. The mediator’s job is to help a couple reach a divorce agreement without the expense and angst of court. Your attorney will be instrumental in choosing a mediator who is also an attorney who knows the law and your court and has a track record of settling cases. About 90% of family law cases settle at mediation; the exception is custody cases, which have a lower settle rate.
Consider it a business transaction
When you get married, it is like a merger between two unaffiliated companies. The marriage concludes the merger, and the combined entity then moves forward in life. A divorce is just like “spinning off” a corporate division. Once concluded, there are two independent companies, much like existed before. By emotionally distancing yourself from the heartbreak, it becomes possible to wrap up the proceedings with much less drama and expense. Of course, children are not part of any business transaction, but they may be involved in a divorce. If young, try to remove them from the proceedings. No matter what age, don’t bad-mouth your spouse in front of them. They also are entitled to a future without guilt or shame.
Make a list of needs and wants
In divorce, you really shouldn’t sweat the details when it comes to possessions and small issues. Working as amicably as possible with your spouse is essential. By making small compromises along the way, while always consulting your attorney, you build a certain level of trust and the compromises are reciprocated. Obviously, you will need a car post-divorce, but do you really need your (soon to be) ex-mother-in-law’s silver set that just happens to be in your storage unit? Perhaps it would be better to return the set in exchange for something that will really matter to your future.
Your future should be top of mind
This is critical – when considering needs and wants, think of how you want to be post-divorce. Do you want to be that angry, vengeful, bitter person who is remembered for drawing out the entire process no matter what the cost? Or is it better to take the high road, finish the “transaction,” and move on in life? Sure, you might want to “stick it” to the other party, but keep in mind how you want to feel that first day waking up single. You need to be able to move forward with confidence and without regret. Before pursuing an action, ask yourself will this help me or hurt me post-divorce? A good lawyer will not be encouraging you to “stick it to the other person” but will advise you on the best settlement for you considering the law and your needs.
Be ready to move forward
We read of celebrity divorces that involve dozens of witnesses and drag on for years. In my experience, this is exactly what you don’t want. If divorce is in your future, get prepared and be realistic. Don’t spend every ounce of energy and your last dollar fighting something that you both consider inevitable. Figure out how to cooperate during the process, and it may be possible to save a great deal of time, money, and heartache. Take stock of your remaining friends, reassure your kids, and you can start anew. If you have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact the Essex Firm for an in-person or virtual consultation.