This past year has been traumatic and stressful for millions of Americans and in many cases, that stress has taken a toll on marriages. The confines of lockdown, the fear of income loss and other challenges from this public health crisis have increased marital tension for many. In fact, a recent article from the Institute for Family Studies notes a survey which found that among adults ages 18 to 55, 34% of married men and women reported that the pandemic increased stress in their marriages.
As a licensed divorce attorney who has run my own law practice since 2014, I know firsthand just how overwhelming the entire process of a divorce can be for everyone it affects, from the former spouses to the children. But I also know that when both sides are willing, it is possible to maintain a healthy and low-cost divorce proceeding. Below are five “do’s” and “don’ts” to follow if you are in the middle of a divorce yourself and want to reach an amicable outcome.
Do Consider All the Long-Term Ramifications.
I have seen many clients prioritize their children in a divorce proceeding but fail to think of their own financial security. I have seen people hire attorneys to represent them in a custody dispute, but then proceed without an attorney to parcel out the marital assets and debts. I have also seen clients agree how much each parent will spend on college tuition for their children still in elementary school but fail to obtain their rightful portion of a 401K.
All of these actions are short-sighted. The decisions you make right now in the middle of a divorce can impact numerous areas of your life in the long-term. For example, loans are available for your children’s college tuition, but similar loans will not be available if you need in-home or assisted living care in later years. As a parent, you naturally think it’s best to prioritize the children in a divorce, but if you do not make wise decisions for your own long-term security, these financial burdens will eventually be thrust onto your children as adults.
Do Be Completely Transparent About Finances.
While on the topic of financial allocation and planning, if you want an amicable and affordable divorce, then you must commit to being transparent about all financial assets, as well as any debt you have accrued. Money conflicts are among the top five most commonly cited reasons for divorce, according to research from INSIDER Data, but this doesn’t mean it also has to be a point of contention in a divorce.
Forcing your spouse to hunt around for financial records or hiring an attorney to collect this information for you is both an expensive and lengthy process. Not only is financial transparency the ethical course of action, but the failure to disclose everything could invalidate agreements that were made by both parties in the divorce proceeding.
Do Set Aside Your Feelings of Hurt and Anger.
Another way to remain committed to a peaceful and courteous divorce is to separate your personal emotions from the logistical process itself. No matter how justified you might feel, make a consistent, intentional effort to avoid blame-shifting, scorekeeping and all of the other reasons your marriage was not healthy in the first place. It’s human nature to be hurt or angry in this situation, but I advise processing those emotions with a counselor or therapist and keeping them out of divorce settlement conversations.
Focusing on personal grievances will prevent you both from being able to work together to reach a compromise on finances, custody, and joint assets. Even if one spouse is “more at fault” than the other, this does not mean a judge won’t still award that spouse half of all the assets or shared custody of the children. Thus, it is in everyone’s best interest to manage the emotions and maintain a civil demeanor throughout this whole process.
Don’t Put Children in the Middle of this Ordeal.
If not handled correctly, divorce and separation can take an enormous toll on the mental and emotional wellbeing of your children. According to the World Psychiatry Journal, depression, a sense of instability, academic problems and disruptive behaviors are all common in children of newly divorced and separated parents. With this in mind, it’s important to not heighten their stress or anxiety levels more than necessary under the circumstances. They need reassurance, but they do not need to be part of the decision making.
Do not ask your children where they want to live or how much time they want to spend with each parent. These are mature decisions that place too much pressure on a child who might feel conflicted or worried about hurting one parent’s feelings. Children should not have to shoulder the emotional burden of divorce logistics. The transition into a new family normal is stressful enough. As the two adults, you need to sit down with your spouse and choose an arrangement that will ensure each parent has a strong relationship with the children, then talk with your children together about what this plan will entail.
Don’t Try to Navigate this Without an Attorney.
I have watched this happen with those who want to avoid the cost of a lawyer, but I can tell you, the results are often unsuccessful. Each state has its own specific requirements for couples seeking a divorce, and the information available online is often incomplete or incorrect. If you attempt to use an online form for a separation agreement without an understanding of the legal requirements in your state, this can result in an invalid agreement.
It often becomes more expensive to hire a lawyer to fix an incorrect divorce filing or an invalid agreement than it would be to hire an attorney in the first place and make sure this process is done correctly. The upfront investment is worth it to avoid costly mistakes down the line. After all, one of the main job descriptions of a divorce attorney is to help bring an expedient, streamlined resolution to an otherwise difficult time in your life.
Yes, divorces are painful and difficult, but a healthy outcome can be in reach if you keep these tips in mind.
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