The challenge of going through a divorce pro-se, a Latin term meaning “on one’s own behalf,” is something many people face everyday. With some preparation, and these six tips, you can make it through the nightmare and come out alive.
Preparation. Prepare yourself for the legal fight you have coming. Free divorce workshops and support groups are offered in many towns. Progressive court systems are now offering free clinics for people who will be representing themselves in one of life’s most difficult chapters. Visit the courthouse where your divorce will be heard. Sit for several hours and observe the judge and attorneys. Become comfortable in the environment. It can be intimidating to people who have never been through legal proceedings before.
Hunker Down. Go ahead now and accept the possibility that some of your family and friends will fall for the narcissist’s tendency to tell the story in a convincing manner. Don’t hold a grudge against those in your circle who buy into his or her manipulations. Remember, you also once believed the things you were told. Narcissists will not tolerate failure and this makes it improbable that your soon-to-be-ex will accept any responsibility for the ending of the marriage. You may be the target of a vicious smear campaign and painted as a villain. Be strong and take the high road and eventually the narcissist will be seen for who they truly are. It always happens.
Document. Document. Document. Keep a daily agenda-style journal for recording things that happen. For more important items — or items too large to document in your journal — send an email to yourself in which you spell out the event. Keeping all documents and paperwork in binders —coordinated with your journal — divided by year, month and day, will make retrievable of even the most arcane piece of information easier.
Organize. In connection with the advice above, make sure you get — and stay — organized. Find a system that works for you. Some people maintain strictly digital records. Others use a binder system and others use some combination. The best retrieval system will be one that’s simple and that you will use consistently.
Stop Talking. Or at least limit your communication with your soon-to-be-ex. Keep conversations short and unemotional. If zero contact is impossible, especially if you have children together, then try to limit your communication to emails or texting. Anything that will make sure you can easily keep a record will help. Establish personal boundaries and don’t waiver. Narcissists get their energy from being able to control you. Do not give in to their twisted hunger by giving them what they request.
Maintain Composure. When it’s finally time to face your spouse in the courtroom, make sure you are completely prepared. Thorough preparation will help you stay focused and composed when the problems get too sticky. When you face false accusations, be sure to answer calmly and be ready to provide credible information based on facts. Staying focused will keep you from getting caught up in the need to defend every small allegation and wasting energy. To be successful and maintain composure while the narcissist is testifying, take notes of things that you would like to address, but don’t get sidetracked. Stay focused and stay strong and centered.
Probably no one told you this process will be easy. If you can make a conscious decision to be a survivor instead of a victim, the knowledge you’ve gained can be life-changing as you go through the steps. Divorce is difficult under the best of circumstances. If you find yourself going up against a narcissist as your own representative, then fasten your safety belt and use the oxygen mask if you need to.