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I’ve said it so many times: divorce is hard. Like, really, really hard, even in the “best of circumstances.” There are a lot of reasons for this that I won’t go into now – I could write novels on the topic (as could most divorce lawyers) – but I’ll just say for now that for most individuals getting divorced (i.e. those not working in the ‘divorce industry’), divorce is surprisingly difficult. Likely because the troubles come from all angles, from systemic (courts!) to legal-culture (attorneys!) issues to economic (expensive!) to socio-political (no one agrees how to “make it better”) , and the list goes on. But tough in a, wow I knew it would be difficult but I had no idea it would be…THIS rough.
So it’s not hard to see why so many divorcing couples are looking for optionsthat really do improve those aspects of the situation and process wherever possible.
Here’s a bit of non-legal (perhaps non-traditional, outside the box, so to speak) advice – as I come upon 17 years as a family law attorney – about how to actually have a kinder, gentler, and better divorce:
- Trust your gut. Whether it’s about which attorney to hire or which route to take in the process, you’re going to have a lot of decisions to make in divorce. One of the first decisions is hiring an attorney – are you going to & if so, who should you choose? You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this person, you’re going to need to trust them with the most intimate details of your life, and you’re going to be in a relationship where you’re at least a little vulnerable, financially, emotionally, mentally, etc. You don’t have to go with the most expensive, or the least expensive, & try not to let the well-meaning advice of others influence you on who to hire (you have to hire a shark! No you should hire someone local! No you should hire a [attribute here]!). It’s YOUR divorce, it’s YOUR family, it’s YOUR life that is changing. Work with someone you feel comfortable with, & who works in a manner that fits you & your particular style & personality. Trust your instincts & your gut to lead you to the right person & try to at least limit the influence of outside advice (even this advice!) – take it all in of course, but leave that which doesn’t serve you. Side tip: Talk to more than one attorney/have more than one consultation, even if you connect with the first one – at least to see a comparison & get a feel for how another attorney works. It may help you to solidify your first positive impression or help you to realize that you may want (need) something different.
- Be discerning. You have a lot of options when it comes to divorce. You can try mediation or other non-traditional routes (judge mediator, collaborative divorce, online services, document preparers, corporate attorney ‘deals’). Like trusting your gut, be discerning about who you’re working with & be sure the situation fits the proposed solution. Document services are less expensive & can be helpful, but when you’re working with non-attorneys, they can’t give you legal advice (not legally anyway), so aren’t generally appropriate where conflict is high. Where money is a concern, collaborative divorce may not be an option as it can be expensive working with several professionals. Mediation doesn’t generally work in a divorce situation where there is a power differential in a couple (which can manifest as abuse in more serious situations but doesn’t have to rise to that level to disrupt mediation), but that’s case-specific. So in choosing your route, be discerning in how to proceed and be sure the solution fits your needs. Side tip: The same goes for technology. Technology can be a great help in divorce, whether it’s a child and spousal support calculator, a child custody and visitation shared calendar, a message board for an extended family to communicate, etc., technology can be great. Indeed, I am a HUGE fan in the wonderful ways in which technology has been an amazing help to divorcing and extended/blended families – and I think it will only get better as resources improve – but just use your discernment to choose what’s right for you & your family & situation specifically.
- Remember your own sovereignty & free will. There’s lots and lots of help available out there, and lots and lots of businesses out there ready to help you and take your money for their help. There’s also a lot of help out there that’s out to really help those who are divorcing, who want to make it easier & better, kinder & gentler, and who really do actually care about their clients, their families, and the outcomes (over fees). Sometimes it’s a little tough to tell which is which, which is why we have the first two tips above this one (say that sentence 5 times fast!). But at the end of the day, your divorce is YOUR divorce, & handing over control to someone else, whether it’s your spouse (I’ll just let him take care of all the details…), your attorney (we even use the language, “will you take my case?”), your best friend who got divorced 11 years ago (& is still bitter), or perhaps you remember your own parents’ divorce 17 years ago (& are driven to do exactly the opposite of what they did), probably is not going to lead to the best result for YOU. So try not to forget that at the end of the day, the kind of divorce you have is up to you. If you give up control of the process, of who to work with & what path to take – and indeed of even the decisions made or results – well then can you see how you may come out of the process less than satisfied. Ask questions, remember it’s YOUR divorce, family, finances and future, & try not to lose sight of your own freedom to do what’s best for you, in your current situation, & let it be okay if what’s right for you is different from everyone else. Part of divorce is reclaiming yourself as a single, sovereign, independent person – not something we talk much about in the attorney-client relationship, but that doesn’t make it any less real or true in the divorce process – so having that in your mind as you progress can help to serve as bread crumbs, guiding you through the maze of divorce. Side tip: Divorce is like a death, so you may recognize the well-known “stages of grief” in the divorce process. I know I see them in my clients. Familiarize yourself with them so that perhaps when you’re overcome with a new and different divorce emotion, understanding the roots of it can help it to pass more easily and quickly.
- Finally…expect the unexpected. It’s common, natural, normal and human to want to know RIGHT NOW how long the process is going to take, how much it’s going to cost, what the outcome will be (how much support will I receive/pay? Who will keep the house?), and all of those questions currently burning in your mind as you search the internet for answers. But divorce is a process, and one of the biggest lessons that I see (for my clients) is that it IS a process. It (usually) takes a long, long time, there are a surprising number of variables to deal with (almost none of which you have any control over, unfortunately), things can change radically & suddenly, it’s a roller coaster of emotions unlike what you may be expecting, & no one can know how it’s going to come out…well, until it’s over. Almost everyone asks me what my opinion is about their case, and surely I must have some insight on how the case will proceed/end up based on how long I’ve been practicing & the large volume of clients I’ve worked with over the years, etc…. But nope – families are unique like fingerprints, & their dynamics in conflict vary like the individuals that comprise them. Add in all of the variables, and you have a recipe for the unexpected. I’ve seen very high conflict cases suddenly settle, to everyone’s delighted amazement and satisfaction. I’ve seen “simple” cases for couples with few resources blow up into war-like conflicts that go on for years (though this has been rare!), and of course everywhere in between. I think it’s part of the divorce reflecting both the style & personality of the couple divorcing as well as those of the separating individuals (who change and evolve as they move from a mental & emotional space from “married” to “separated” to “divorced”), with a splash of the styles & personalities of those involved in the case, like lawyers, mediators, etc. But every case is unique to that case – which is why our representation is NEVER “one size fits all” and we tailor our approach to fit the client & case – so coming to terms with the unexpected can make the entire process at least a little easier. Side tip: This lack of or loss of control – of the situation, process & future outcome – can be one of the more difficult aspects of divorce, perhaps because it’s an aspect that’s….unexpected! Really! Honor that, & allow yourself time to deal with it specifically & that may make the rest of it smoother & less frustrating.
So take this advice, or leave it as it suits you. We hope it helps in some way, & if you’re getting divorced or have another kind of family law case/issue in California (paternity, adoption, child support/custody change), we’d be happy to chat with you about it if you think we could be of service.