While divorce is not a cheerful topic or a happy time in a couple’s life, it is a reality for millions of Americans who divorce or who are considering calling it quits with their spouse. The struggles are the same for everyone between who was right, who was wrong, who gets the kids on the weekend, the house or the dog. Divorce is difficult, but understanding the do’s and don’ts and how to start the divorce process is crucial for ensuring a smooth, healthy transition from marriage to divorce.
Below, are the ten most healthy steps for starting the divorce process.
- Stop. Relax. Breathe.
This is going to be one of the most important decisions of your life, do not rush it. Do not make any decisions in the midst of an argument. This includes any decisions or conversations after a night out, or while having your second glass of Pinot Noir. Everything you say, text or email will come back and hurt you. Let a few days go by, there is no rush.
- Assemble Your Financials.
Many people entrust the finances to their spouse, and have little idea of the nuances of their finances. This must stop now. The absolute essentials are three years federal and state tax returns, all current bank statements, current statements from IRA/401k accounts, current credit card statements. Spouses hide assets all the time, and once the divorce actually starts, you can imagine that the spirit of open disclosure and cooperation sometimes dwindles. Please note that if you are planning on turning to an accountant or financial planner for information he or she may inform the other spouse. If discretion at this stage is critical, perhaps you wait to assemble the information.
- Spend Time Researching Attorneys.
It takes months to find the right car to buy, hiring the person or firm who is going to be going through one of the most difficult journeys of your life is should not take a mere Google search. Do your research and ask around, but only take referrals of people who have actually hired the attorney. Referrals such as “My friend John said this attorney is a pit bull,” (no pun intended re: the recent news regarding “Brangelina”) should be summarily dismissed. Meet more than one attorney—while they can all be qualified, this doesn’t mean you have the right personality match, which is critical. Of critical importance, have a meaningful conversation with your spouse before your attorney reaches out to him or her, or his or her attorney (see step 4).
- Have a Meaningful (Calm) Conversation.
This assumes you have soul searched, spoken to loved ones, friends (therapists, rabbis and priests not excluded) about your decision to get a divorce. When you have made up on your mind and done steps 1-3, plan some time with your spouse, outside of the house if you have kids, and have a true heart-to-heart. This is a difficult conversation to have, and it should set the parameters for the divorce. How do each of you see the process going? Identify items that are crucially important to each other (if keeping the house rather than selling is important, now is the time to mention that). There is no need to commit to anything, however, the 4-5 important items to each spouse should be known at this point. Remind each other that you were once in love, and most likely brought beautiful children into this world together. There is no need to make this even more painful.
- Discuss a Parenting Plan.
Perhaps this is tied to step 4, but most likely it is not. Once the shock of the initial conversation has passed, it is important to start discussing a few things about the kids. First, the message must be universal. What are we telling them, and each time they ask about it, what is our message? This must stay uniform throughout the process, and obviously depends on the age of your children. Discuss schedules, especially if you will be living apart during the process. Going through a divorce does not mean that Sally or Jimmy must stop going to soccer practice on Saturday. It is of critical importance that little changes about your children’s’ lives. They should not be disrupted. Your decision to divorce was not theirs. There are millions of success stories concerning co-parenting after divorce and, you should add another.
- Avoid Social Media.
Under no circumstances should anyone post anything about their divorce to social media. First, it might be something embarrassing. Second, everyone has the right to some privacy. Third, it is in bad taste and will look terrible in court during the process, if there is one thing judges hate, it’s this. Fourth, and most importantly, if your kids are old enough, they (and their peers) can see it too!
- Make a Plan with Your Attorney.
At this point, you have gathered some of the information you need and had “the conversation,” it’s time to make sure your attorney understands your goals and listens to your direction. Let’s face it, the more difficult the case, the more money the attorney makes. Guide him or her clearly on what you care about and don’t care about. If you have an apartment in Florida that you hate but your spouse loves find a way to let your spouse get what he or she wants in exchange for something else. Compromise, we all learned it in kindergarten. Be specific with your attorney about what you can and cannot afford and let your attorney know your expectations with billing.
- Think About You.
Many people who are going through a divorce think about nothing other than getting divorced. They forget that no matter what, soon enough it is going to happen. Then what? Start to make financial plans for yourself after divorce. What can you afford, what’s your budget? You are going to need to be more flexible now with the kids’ schedules speak to your employer. What about your emotional well-being? Slowly start to think about the life after. There are hundreds of resources available for the newly divorced out there, research them.
- Do Not Communicate Through Lawyers.
Unless your divorce is highly contentious, you should make every day decisions yourselves. You were married for many years and did this every day why do you need two strangers (the lawyers) to decide if Amy is going to get braces in May or July? First, after the divorce the lawyers go away and you still need to raise your children and co-parent. Second, every email or letter sparks anger and costs you hundreds of dollars. Be adults, and remember that you were once in love.
I’ve often heard, “he or she wants this to last forever.” Sometimes that can be the case. Other times, you have resolved 95% of the issues and are stuck on a few. Go back to step 4—remember we need to identify those critical issues. You should have known what was important and tackled this first. If there is a delay in wrapping up, it is usually caused over an argument about those “big issues” we never addressed. Your life will go on without the china you inherited from Grandma, and if the argument over child support is a couple of dollars that doesn’t change anyone’s life be done! A divorce that drags on can add unnecessary expenses and unnecessary hard feelings.
Dimopoulos & Bruggemann P.C., located in Tuckahoe, N.Y, is best known for its expertise in matrimonial and family law – helping high-net-worth clients settle through often complicated divorce cases. Owner Gus Dimopoulos’ experience and readiness to go to trial has earned him a reputation as a no-nonsense litigator who is a strong advocate for his clients. For more information about Dimopoulos & Bruggemann P.C., please visit our website at www.dimolaw.com.
Gus Dimopoulos of Dimopoulos & Bruggemann P.C.