Many people get to the other side of the divorce divide and find themselves thinking: “If only I had known then what I do now.” We don’t want you to be in this position. So we’ve assembled several pages of advice based on our own research experience as well as what other divorce experts believe is important for parents to know. This collective wisdom will help you avoid the pitfalls that have entrapped others, and also hopefully assist in your understanding of the divorce process so that you better know what to expect.
General Divorce Advice
Divorce advice tip #1: Take the high road, and keep conflict to a minimum
Many parents go into a divorce assuming that the key to tilting the odds in their favor is to try and convince the judge or mediators about how wrong or pig-headed their former spouse is. Yet this approach seldom wins you any brownie points. “Judges have become less tolerant of the bickering that goes on between parents during a divorce,” says family attorney Mary Jo McCurley. “They realize this must go on at home, too, and know it’s harmful to the children. They aren’t as interested in fault or who started it, they just know it’s a vicious cycle that has to stop.” (D Magazine, Oct. 2011, p. 134)
Judges have dealt with enough feuding parents to know that they can’t ever take anyone’s claims at face value, and so they don’t respond well to such tactics. Rather, they respect parents who take the high road; those who can take insults without dishing them out in return and who aren’t interested in slandering the other parent.
“When we split the fighting became horrible. We both hired lawyers, and they acted like hired guns – each trying to get the most for his client. I gave depositions, filed court motions, answered her motions, and finally went to court. I was hit with a staggering legal bill. I could have put two of my daughters through college with what I spent on lawyers. The sad thing is that the arguments and accusations in court made things worse. We still can’t just sit down and talk about what is best for our kids.”
– A divorced father (Frieman, 2005, pg. 34)
Divorce advice tip #2: Only in fairy tales do people get everything they want
Regardless of which type of divorce process you opt for, never go in expecting to get 100% of what you want. So before you go into negotiations, it might help to create a list of what’s most important to you, and be willing to compromise on some of the things at the bottom of the list. You may even need to sacrifice something at the top.
Divorce advice tip #3: Know the numbers
Educate yourself about family finances. Start gathering financial documents, statements for joint and separate accounts, and make yourself aware of the family’s debt and assets so you know approximately where you stand.
“Children are always the major concern in reaching a divorce agreement. Does it really matter who gets the picture over the living room couch? How will your life change if she gets the fancier car? Keep your focus on the most important thing – the welfare and long-term care of your children.“
– Barry B. Frieman, Ed.D. (2005, p. 37)
Divorce advice tip #4: Familiarize yourself with state law
I know this tip seems like less fun than watching grass grow, but it helps to be educated yourself. You’ll be better prepared in talks with lawyers, and it may even save you some money. “Frankly, every adult contemplating (divorce) or in a (bad) marriage should know and understand the basics of family law,” says divorce attorney Elizabeth Hunter. (ibid, p. 132)
Divorce advice tip #5: Document areas of sacrifice
Before you go into the mediation process, have a list of things that you are giving up or are willing to give up. It will help you in negotiations to be able to highlight the areas you are sacrificing.
“To engage in lengthy, expensive, knock-down, drag-out legal battles in this day and age doesn’t make sense. It’s prohibitively expensive. You need to figure out who it is that you shared a bed with for all those years and how to get through this in the most cost-effective and amicable way – and it starts with you…” – Hollywood lawyer Laura Wasser (Interview, June 2012, p. 39)
Divorce legal tip: Ask before you act
Before you move out of the house or make any decisions regarding the care of your children, you might want to consult a lawyer, especially if you anticipate a contentious divorce. Simply packing up and leaving might be misconstrued as abandonment later on, and sudden changes in the child care arrangement also could affect child custody. As a general rule, it’s best to go about life as normally as possible until the divorce is finalized or you are advised by your lawyer that a particular action won’t hurt your interests.