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Divorce, for lack of a better word, sucks. In fact, according to a ranking of stressful life events, divorce is more stressful than going to prison (Miller & Rahe, 1997). That’s pretty terrible, but maybe understandable considering divorce often makes people feel lost, victimized, and helpless. Sounds a little like prison. Couples can help minimize these feelings by having realistic expectations about their divorce. Following are five truths you should consider before you begin the process:
Forget the image of emerging from the courtroom feeling vindicated for the injustices you may have suffered throughout your marriage. For starters, fewer than five percent of divorces ever go to trial; the vast majority settle through mediation or other out-of-court dispute resolution processes. Secondly, you cannot “win” your divorce. Even if you get every dollar you are entitled to, that’s only (roughly) half of what you had during the marriage. No fault divorce laws means marital assets and debts will be split equitably, regardless of the behavior of either party.
When it’s all over, you will probably feel like you got screwed. Most people are pretty unhappy with their divorce settlement. A fellow mediator, Amber Serwat, recently talked about the importance of talking to our clients about how settlement feels. Settlement means you each have to give up a lot, causing you to wonder if you gave up too much. Even if you went back and did it all again, the details may differ slightly, but the overall settlement would look pretty much the same. It’s not your fault, it’s not your ex’s fault, it’s not your attorney’s fault; feeling like you got screwed is the inevitable reality of divorce.
Attorneys are advocates, not magicians. Your attorney can help you find realistic solutions to the problems divorce presents, but not wave a magic wand and make them all go away. Most of the solutions your attorney offers will involve some sacrifice on your part. This includes living on a budget, giving in to some of the other party’s demands, and spending less time with your kids. Be prepared to make significant life changes and sacrifices, no matter how “tough” your attorney might be.
The less cooperative the two of you are, the more time and money you will spend getting divorced.
It’s completely normal to want to say “black” to your ex’s “white” at every possible turn during divorce. Hurt, fear, and frustration are at an all-time high during the process. The best thing you can do for your bank account is put your emotions aside and be as cooperative as possible with your ex. If you can both agree to engage in mediation, you will save significant time and thousands of dollars. If you decide to litigate using attorneys, it’s best if the two attorneys can collaborate (or at least be civil) with one another. While you may think you want an attorney that berates and threatens the other side, this will only make the process take longer and cost you more money. Divorce is a business deal and business deals require effective communication that is focused on problem solving.
Your kids will be sad/hurt/angry/scared. Divorce is tough for children, which is painful for the parents who love them. Validate their feelings, protect them from the conflict, and constantly reassure them it’s not their fault and you both will always love them. You and your spouse both likely want what is best for your children but you may have different ideas what that means. While fighting for a few extra overnights a month may feel like it’s in your child’s best interest, it’s probably not. The longer and more conflicted your divorce process is, the more potential it has to damage your children (see my blog post http://www.resolutiondivorceservices.com/conflict-is-not-in-kids-best-interest/). Seek advice from a therapist or parenting coach on how to be the best parent to your kids during divorce. With your help, kids can adjust to the “new normal” and get back to being kids again.
Divorce sucks for these five reasons, and many more. Starting the process with realistic expectations will help you and your kids get through it so you can get started building your new life.
Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366, or firstname.lastname@example.org. “Like” her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erinkassebaumrds.
Miller, M. & Rahe, R. (1997). Life Changes Scaling for the 1990’s. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 43(3), 279-292.