Wouldn't it be nice to be able to sit back and let your lawyer “take care of things" in your divorce? Unfortunately, it's not likely to be that easy. To maximize your chances of achieving your divorce goals, you must remain proactive.
You can reasonably expect your lawyer to help you define your goals and navigate the legal system to achieve them. You should not expect your lawyer to educate you about divorce, prepare you for all that might come your way, or minimize its impact on your kids.
Good divorce lawyers carry a heavy caseload. All too often, several of a lawyer’s cases reach critical stages at the same time, leaving the lawyer scrambling to prepare for settlement negotiations, hearings or trial. As a result, details can get overlooked and clients can be left unprepared.
You can reduce the chances of that happening by doing the following:
1. Find Common Ground with Your Co-Parent
Early in your divorce, propose to your co-parent that despite your differences, you each commit to working cooperatively for the benefit of your kids.
Shoot for cooperative parenting even if you are dubious that it will happen. It’s likely that you and your spouse share at least some child-rearing values. Now would be an excellent time to recall them. If possible, go even further by drawing up a “Shared Parenting Goal Statement,” a list of principles to which you each commit to remain faithful during the divorce. Include things like prohibitions against:
- Using the kids as messengers
- Disparaging each other in front of the kids, and
- Sharing unnecessary financial and other details with them
Your lawyer is not going to give you instructions on how to parent during divorce. It’s up to you to educate yourself and do everything possible to help your kids handle the upheaval in their lives.
2. Learn About Divorce from the Right Sources
The good news is there’s plenty of information out there about divorce. The bad news is that a lot of that information
- Doesn’t apply to your situation;
- Relates to the law of another state; and/or
- Is just plain wrong
Nonetheless, you should try to educate yourself about the fundamentals of divorce in your state. The best sources of information are materials available on websites maintained by your state’s court system or bar association.
As you learn, you may find yourself becoming less anxious about the foreign world of divorce, lawyers, and judges. And that can help you interact more empathetically with your kids, and more productively with your co-parent and your lawyer.
3. Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
The traditional or “court-based” divorce process relies on the “adversary system,” which dates back to Merry Olde England where the two not-so-merry methods of dispute resolution were “trial by battle” and “trial by ordeal.” Unfortunately, court-based divorces today still retain some of each of them.
If you and your spouse wish to have more control of your divorce, and settle it fairly and cooperatively, consider “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) methods such as mediation and collaborative divorce. In mediation, a neutral third-party helps you identify and resolve the financial and child-related issues in your divorce. In collaborative divorce, the spouses and their lawyers negotiate settlement in a series of meetings.
ADR that involves experienced professionals and well-intentioned spouses is usually quicker, less expensive, and less acrimonious than court-based divorce.
4. Make a Divorce Game Plan
Your chances of achieving divorce goals go up dramatically if you know what your goals are. You’d be amazed how many divorcing folks don’t.
Make a list of your goals. Keep it general. Your lawyer will be able to help you flesh out the details and tell you how attainable your goals are. An initial goals list might look something like this:
- Have the kids live primarily with me
- Keep the house for at least 5 years
- Receive spousal support until I can get some training and resume my career
- Receive child support plus divide the kids’ extra-curricular expenses and post-high-school education expense according to our abilities to pay
5. Be Your Own Paralegal
Discuss with your lawyer keeping your fees down by performing some tasks yourself. With some direction from your lawyer or her paralegal, you can learn how to gather, copy, scan and organize documents such as bank and credit card statements, retirement plan documents, loan applications, and other documents typically collected during divorce.
If your lawyer prefers electronically stored documents and you don’t have access to a scanner, see if you can arrange to use your lawyer’s. Otherwise, consider buying one yourself. You can recoup the cost and more with what you save on paralegal charges.
6. Don’t Wait for an Invitation to Your Witness Prep Meeting
Busy lawyers too often neglect to prepare their clients to testify at court hearings or depositions, even though such testimony can significantly impact case outcomes.
If your lawyer doesn’t arrange to meet with you regarding testimony you are expecting to give, take the initiative and schedule the meeting yourself. Tell your lawyer you want to do more than discuss your testimony. Tell her that you want to practice it by having her question you on key issues in your case (and issues as to which you feel vulnerable) and then evaluate your responses to them.
7. Stay Healthy and Centered
Your ability to remain healthy, centered and energetic during your divorce is another key to achieving your goals. Consider making the following part of your routine:
- Practice relaxation techniques such as
yoga and meditation. If you haven’t tried
meditation, there are lots of apps and sites to show you how.
- Maintain an exercise schedule. If you’re not the gym type, there are plenty of exercise apps for exercise too, that will help you do it on your own.
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Lay off soda and other sugar-laden products,
and drink plenty of water.
- Consider counseling. If you don’t need therapy during a divorce, you probably never will. Check with a qualified therapist to see if you—or your children—might.
- Avoid isolation. Nothing good comes out of brooding at home.
- Get ample sleep. Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine, such as a hot bath, meditation, or light reading. Avoid the bright lights of TV and electronics. And experiment with the thermostat to find your best sleep temperature—a degree or two can make a big difference.
8. Don’t Lose Sight of the Kids
At times during your divorce, your world may feel like it’s falling apart. For many children of tender years, divorce means that their world is falling apart. Take the time to assure your kids that both their parents love them, that the adult problems that have caused the divorce have nothing to do with them, and that calmer and happier days are ahead.
Portions of this article were reproduced from Larry Sarezky's upcoming book, "The Functional Divorce Book." To pre-order and for more information on "functional divorce" that maximizes results while cutting divorce expense, visit 21stCenturyDivorce.com.
For more information on protecting children from high-conflict divorce, see Larry Sarezky's Telly-Award winning short film, "Talk to Strangers" and read its companion parents' guide. The film trailer and guide excerpt are available at www.ChildCustodyFilm.com.
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