While some people believe that divorcing your spouse in a respectful, civilized way is about as likely as finding a unicorn in the middle of Times Square during rush hour, amicable divorces happen every day.
But, they don’t happen by accident.
If you want your divorce to be amicable, you have to start by deciding that keeping the peace matters to you.
Maybe it matters because you know you have to co-parent with your ex after your divorce and you don’t want your kids to suffer. Maybe it matters because starting a war is not your style, and you’d rather put your energy into rebuilding a new life rather than in destroying your old one. Or, maybe you just don’t want to spend your kids’ college account and all of your retirement savings on divorce lawyers.
Whatever your reason, getting an amicable divorce starts with wanting an amicable divorce. (It also helps if your spouse wants an amicable divorce, too.)
Yet, deciding that you want a peaceful divorce is just your first step. After that, you have to actually do the things that will help make your divorce amicable. You also have to avoid doing the things that will start a war.
Of course, when you’re facing divorce, you’re probably getting bombarded with conflicting advice. Sometimes it’s tough to know what will help you divorce peacefully, and what will end up causing a bloodbath. Here are 30 tips you can use to keep your divorce civilized, dignified, and amicable.
30 Tips for an Amicable Divorce
1. Stay out of Court. In today’s world, there are many different ways to get divorced. You don’t need to fight in court just to get divorced. Explore mediation, collaborative divorce, co-operative divorce, and other alternatives to litigation. Do everything you can to resolve your issues with your spouse outside of the court system. Fight only if you have no choice.
2.Don’t hire a gladiator. Hiring a gladiator for a lawyer will make your divorce into a battle. Guaranteed. That’s what gladiators do – they fight. While you definitely need legal advice, you don’t need a lawyer who will pump you full of sunshine, and promise to “protect your rights.” You will have a much better chance of divorcing amicably if you hire a lawyer who is knowledgeable, yet reasonable and on board with helping you divorce in the least destructive way possible.
3.Get a therapist. Emotions lie at the heart of every divorce battle. Every. Single. One. Working with a divorce counselor or a therapist to explore your own emotions will help you understand and control them. A good therapist can help you find your power and your voice. In other words, a therapist can help you bring your best self to your divorce. That alone will help make your divorce way more amicable.
4.Educate yourself. The more informed you are, the better decisions you will make. Period. While you don’t have to go to law school or get a degree in finance, you do need to understand the basic principles of how divorce works. You need to understand your financial situation and your financial options. Hiring professionals is not enough.
The more you know about divorce yourself, the better you will be able to manage your divorce and the divorce system.
5.Rally the troops. You need all the support you can get. Trying to go through your divorce alone will make you feel isolated and afraid. It will magnify your doubts and insecurities. All of those emotions will make your divorce harder. They will either cause you to give away the store because you think you can’t do better. Or, they will make you fight because you have unrealistic expectations of what you “deserve.” (They also make you afraid that you will never make it on your own.)
6.Don’t listen to the “Greek chorus.” When you’re getting divorced, everyone has an opinion about what you should do. Your family and friends mean well. They really want the best for you. But just because your best friend’s neighbor’s Aunt Susan supposedly got everything in her divorce, that does NOT mean you should do whatever she did. Every divorce is different. It’s good to listen and learn from others’ experiences. But don’t forget to listen to your divorce professionals. Then do what’s best for you.
7.Don’t assume that getting an “amicable divorce” will be easy. No divorce is easy. Even an “amicable divorce” feels like someone is ripping your heart out with an ice pick. Sure, divorcing amicably is way less destructive (especially for your kids) than creating an all-out war. But don’t expect that just because you’re trying to divorce as peacefully as you can, that your divorce will be easy and pain-free. That’s just not how divorce works. (Sorry!)
8.Make sure your expectations are realistic. If you start your divorce believing you are entitled to get the sun, the moon, and the stars in your settlement agreement, you will fight like a mama or papa bear protecting its cub to get exactly that. If you’re really entitled to get all that in your divorce, fine. But, if you’re not, it’s a problem. You will never have an amicable divorce if what you want is totally unrealistic. (Unless, of course, your spouse wants a divorce so badly that s/he will give you everything, just to be divorced.)
9.Commit to full financial disclosure. You can’t negotiate what you don’t know exists. If you and your spouse are not willing to voluntarily come clean with full financial information, your divorce is not going to be amicable. (Or, if it is, it will probably end up being wildly unfair to one of you.) Without consenting to full financial disclosure, none of the out-of-court divorce processes are going to work for you either. That pretty much leaves you fighting in court.
10.Get legal advice BEFORE you start negotiating. Staying out of court does not mean you don’t need legal advice! If the agreement you make with your spouse because you didn’t know better ends up being horrible (or a judge won’t approve it) your “amicable divorce” will blow up like it was hit with a hydrogen bomb. It’s way better to get the knowledge and divorce advice you need from the start, than it is to try to re-negotiate a bad deal later. (Just remember tip 2: don’t hire a gladiator!)
11.Listen to your gut. Getting professional advice when you’re going through a divorce is important. But never forget that this is YOUR life! Blindly following every professional’s advice, without examining whether that advice is right for you and your family, can cause you to fight over things that don’t even matter. Most importantly, when your gut starts screaming, “Don’t do ________ (fill in the blank)!” do yourself a favor. Pay attention!
12.Decide you will be reasonable, even if your spouse is not. The only person you can control is you. If your spouse wants to rage against the world, or make outrageous demands in your divorce, you can’t stop him/her. But if you don’t respond to the craziness by being crazy yourself, you will at least contain the insanity to some degree.
13.Ditch the blame game. Blame is a form of attack. When you attack (blame) your spouse, s/he will immediately throw up a wall and start to defend him/herself. It’s natural. But that wall is just one more hurdle you have to climb to be able to negotiate an amicable settlement in your divorce.
14.Wait at least an hour before responding to any text or email that makes you crazy. Your spouse knows how to push every button you have. When your spouse sends you a scathing text or email – don’t shoot back an equally explosive reply! Stop! Breathe. If you have to write something down just to vent, go ahead. Then delete it!
Think carefully about every communication you have with your spouse. If you truly want an amicable divorce, engaging in a blistering text war will not help you.
15.Go easy on the booze. Alcohol and drugs may make you feel better in the moment, but they if you overindulge too often, dealing with your divorce becomes harder. Medicating your emotions does not make them go away. It just stuffs them down deeper. Then, when you’re least expecting it (and at the worst possible time) those emotions come out in some totally unrelated (and inappropriate) way. That can really throw a monkey wrench into your amicable divorce negotiations.
16.Get enough sleep. Going through a divorce is guaranteed to cause you sleepless nights. At the same time, you’re more likely to be emotionally reactive (i.e. NOT amicable) when you’re sleep deprived. That’s why it’s even more important when you’re going through a divorce to take care of yourself. Practice good sleep habits. Explore herbal teas, meditation, and natural sleep aids. Get medical help if you need it. Do your best to get a good night’s sleep as often as you can.
17.Keep your eye on the big picture. Set goals in the beginning of your divorce. Keep your eye on those goals. Make sure those goals inform every decision you make. If your ex wants to fight over who gets the toaster, and getting the toaster is not your main goal, let it go. It doesn’t matter whether your spouse gets “more” than you do. It doesn’t matter whether it feels like your spouse is “winning” everything. Focus on the big stuff, and let the rest go.
18.Think about how each decision you make will affect your kids. It’s not enough to do what is in your kids’ “best interest.” If you want to protect your kids in your divorce, you will do whatever it takes to minimize your conflict. Your kids will survive if you feed them only organic food and your spouse takes them to McDonalds. They will not do so well if you decide to wage an all-out war with your spouse over what they eat for dinner every night. (Also, fighting over parenting issues will pretty much guarantee that your divorce will not be amicable.)
19.Stop trying to punish your spouse. Deep down, on some level, you probably want your spouse to suffer. (It’s okay. You can admit it!) You may not want to boil him/her in oil. But you want your spouse to feel at least a little bit bad about losing you. You want him/her to be upset that your marriage didn’t work out as you had planned. Wanting your spouse to feel bad is normal.
But acting on those feelings won’t get you an amicable divorce. It will get you a bloodbath.
20.Practice gratitude every day. When you’re going through a divorce, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by negativity. Spending a few minutes every day being thankful for what you have (and you still have a lot!) can change your entire perspective … and your divorce!
21.Negotiate in good faith. Hiding assets, draining the joint bank account and playing all sorts of legal and financial “dirty tricks” on your spouse, will only make your divorce ugly. While you may be tempted to try to take advantage of your spouse during your divorce, doing that will not make your divorce amicable – especially when your spouse finds out what’s been going on!
22.Trust, but verify. When a marriage falls apart, trust is usually one of the first casualties. Everyone is suspicious of their spouse when they are divorcing. But doubting every single thing your spouse says or does will make your divorce ten times harder. Of course, you don’t want to be a sap either. But your divorce will be way more amicable if you give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, while also verifying that you’re getting accurate information. If it turns out that your spouse is being less than honest, then you may have good reason to start questioning everything else.
23.Don’t start dating until your divorce is over. It doesn’t matter that you and your spouse have been living separately for years. Once you are going through a divorce, everything changes. Suddenly, for some reason only your spouse understands, s/he wants to get back together with you. Or, your spouse definitely wants a divorce, but s/he doesn’t want to see you move on. (This happens, by the way, even if your spouse has already moved on him/herself!) If you want your divorce to be amicable, keep the break up between you and your spouse. Don’t add anyone else into the mix.
24.Don’t listen to the trash talk (and don’t talk trash to your spouse!). When you’re angry or upset, you shoot for the kill. You threaten to do things you know will hurt your spouse. S/he does the same to you. In a perfect world, everyone would control themselves, even in divorce. But, the world is not perfect. Neither is your spouse. When s/he gets angry and tells you, “I’ll take you for every dime you’ve got,” or, “You’ll never see the kids again,” don’t freak out! Deal with the issues. Close your ears to the noise.
25.Don’t rush. You are not going to get divorced in one day (no matter how much you may want to!). Forcing yourself to move ahead on some arbitrary timetable will only put more pressure on you. You’re already under enough pressure. Give yourself a break. Take the time you need to process your divorce emotionally. Allow yourself to adjust to your new life, and new lifestyle, one day at a time.
26.Don’t try to rush your spouse. Divorce only goes as fast as the slowest person. Pushing your spouse to get divorced when s/he is not ready is the surest way to make your spouse dig in and fight. That only makes your divorce take longer. Your divorce will be way more amicable (and, ironically, faster!) if you give your spouse the time and space s/he needs to deal with what’s going on.
27.Don’t take it personally. Remember that whatever your spouse says about you is not really about you: it’s about your spouse. Is your spouse telling you that the divorce is all your fault? Maybe that’s because your spouse can’t take responsibility for his/her own actions in your marriage. Is your spouse telling you that you will never find love again? Maybe that is his/her own fear.
The bottom line is: your spouse’s proclamations about you are not Gospel truth. They are simply your spouse’s opinions.
28.Remember the power of an apology. No one is perfect all the time. No matter what you try to do, there will be times in your divorce when you do stupid stuff. When that happens, apologize. Few things are more disarming than saying “I’m sorry” to your spouse – especially when you are going through a divorce. (Of course, you have to really mean it, too!)
29.Don’t expect to be friends in an instant. Maybe you want more than an amicable divorce. Maybe you want to maintain a friendship with your ex even after your divorce is over. While “staying friends” is definitely possible, it takes time. You need to heal. Trying to force yourselves to be friends before you are both ready and able to do so will just be awkward. Take your time. Respect each other’s boundaries. Keep the lines of communication open. See what develops.
30.Remember that you are enough. Own that. When you are going through a divorce, it’s easy to start to believe that you are not enough. You are not successful enough, fit enough, pretty or handsome enough, smart enough, fill-in-the-blank enough. That’s all garbage. You are enough. Period. Full stop. Once you really own that, and you own your own power, your divorce drama may suddenly start to dial down itself.