We’ve all seen messy divorces play out in real life, whether through friends and family or in the headlines. Kelly Clarkson’s split from now-ex Brandon Blackstock has played out very publicly over the past two years, with every detail about their breakup seemingly more contentious than the last. Any way you look at it, divorce is one of the most challenging and heartbreaking transitions in life. Between the tears and the division of assets, is there such a thing as an amicable divorce? Having an amicable divorce might seem out of the question as you and your partner untangle your lives from one another, dealing with everything from your kids to your home to your personal possessions to your friends and family, and, of course, all the memories you shared. Considering the alternative, though — a divorce where you and your partner can’t be in the same room together, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees, and, worse yet, needlessly scar your children as a result — it makes sense to try making your divorce as amicable as possible.
An amicable divorce comes down to a few things: peace, preparation, cooperation, and patience. That is, you and your partner decide to keep the bigger picture in mind — meaning no finger-pointing or blame — and instead focus on civility and compassion when it comes to your divorce proceedings. It also means that before you go to court, divide assets, and make a settlement, you and your spouse take the time to decide together on how you will handle each step of your divorce and how you will both keep it on track. This all entails cooperation between both parties. So, is it realistic to have an amicable divorce?
“The stereotype of divorce is that it is an ugly process rooted in anger, fear, and distrust, but amicable divorces do happen, and they happen often,” Nicole Sodoma, attorney for Sodoma Law, tells Scary Mommy. “With options like mediation to resolve more complex issues, parties who are willing to be amicable can often resolve some issues on their own and/or with the assistance of an experienced family law attorney. With the right tools, the right information, and the right attitude, divorce doesn’t have to live up to the stereotype.”
How to Divorce Amicably
“Couples who are able to amicably divorce (which I also call a compassionate divorce) are those who have experienced a trusting relationship and have been educated on the law as it relates to their circumstances,” says Sodoma. “For example, if only one person knows the family finances, they need to be able to trust that explanations and documents supporting those numbers are accurate. Divorces become more difficult when one person assumes that whatever their neighbor received or paid is what they will receive or pay. Divorce a not a one-size-fits-all shop.”
Sodoma says it’s important to keep in mind all facets of a divorce, like resolving child-related issues, including physical custody (or co-parenting schedules), and who can make decisions for the children like medical care, academics, etc. (known as legal custody). “Loving your children more than you dislike your spouse will speak volumes in a compassionate amicable divorce setting,” says Sodoma, “In most amicable divorces, both parties have already agreed, in general, to the terms of their settlement.”
Another tip? Be realistic and cautiously optimistic. “I remain cautiously optimistic in every divorce that we handle,” says Sodoma. “However, your partner is not going to change who they are when you separate.” For example, if they were uncompromising on certain matters, they likely will remain uncompromising. “Plus, the people we marry are not the people we divorce,” she says. “Recognizing limits, knowing your audience, understanding your finances, and being realistic about how co-parenting and the parenting schedule will work are some of the characteristics for those capable of having an amicable divorce.”
Additionally, according to Sodoma, who you select as an attorney to represent you will also play a role in helping you manage your expectations. Make sure you vet your legal representation with that in mind.
More Tips for an Amicable Divorce
Above all, have patience during and after the process.
“Divorce, the division of assets, identifying financial support, creating a custody schedule that works for the children and each parent is not a sprint,” says Sodoma. “It tends to be more of a marathon, and even when you think those issues are easily resolvable, the other person may not agree on all points. Figure out what’s most important to you and keep it a priority. Identify a support group. Work with a financial planner. Remember that, ideally, an amicable divorce means that both parties are working for the greater good of the relationship, but it’s not a guarantee. It’s still important to know your options because your decisions can have irreversible consequences.”
Even More Tips for an Amicable Divorce
- When speaking with your spouse, avoid assigning blame.
- Take a beat before answering frustrating emails or texts from your spouse.
- Avoid speaking ill of your spouse on social media or in front of your children.
- Practice active listening.
- Set financial and personal goals for yourself to achieve after your divorce.
- Avoid agreements that were created to punish your spouse.
- Practice giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Rewiring your brain to assume their intentions are positive or, for the kids' sake, helps minimize arguments. Try seeing things from their perspective before deciding to confront them.
- Set boundaries. In this new chapter of divorce, you're going to want to draw some healthy lines when contacting each other. When you were together, late-night phone calls were probably OK, but now it may cause some tension. Setting perimeters will definitely help keep the peace.
Benefits of an Amicable Divorce
And if having an amicable divorce seems daunting at times, Sodoma is quick to point out that the benefits of an amicable divorce are “too many to count.” They can include:
- Peaceful co-parenting.
- Less time and expense.
- Less stress.
- Setting excellent examples for children.
- Setting yourself up for long-term success as a two-household family.
“It’s acceptable to be excellent partners in parenting and not excellent partners in marriage,” says Sodoma. “As someone who has seen both high-conflict divorces and amicable divorces, it’s hard to name all of the benefits of divorcing amicably. In my experience, those that experience an amicable divorce are surprised at what a relief it can be when you are friends and not foes.”
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