Divorce is not a word society usually associates with the idea of triumph. In fact, it’s more closely associated with experiencing a death in the family. While the emotions aren’t easily eluded, we can offer a little guidance from several industry professionals to make it better. With their expert advice, divorce can be a fresh start, a chance to move your family in a new direction and redefine who you are individually, as they help us navigate the mental, spiritual, financial and legal battles that ensue. The encouragement is that everything really can turn out all right … perhaps sooner than you might think.
We’ve decided to divorce …Where do we start?
Kelley Linn of Transitions Resource, LLC DBA-Transitions Resource Divorce Mediation Center says, “First, a couple should learn about the multiple methods of divorce in order for them to make an informed decision about which will be the right one for their family.”
Linn explains that there are two main components to a typical divorce decree—financial and custodial—the financial aspect of dividing marital assets and debts and the [plan for] being co-parents to children after divorce. “At our center, we prepare the couple for mediation by first bringing in a financial expert to show the family what a fair and equitable division of their assets is. It’s important to equip them in advance to be able to negotiate,” Linn says. “Then they have the mediation session to fine-tune that and create a comprehensive parenting plan that works for the entire family. The attorneys then convert their mediated agreement into legal settlement documents and file them with the courts.”
Having both spouses under one roof, learning everything about the process and about what’s fair and what life can look like after a divorce can do two things—one, keep the family out of the court process, and two, save the family both time and money.
Melissa Davis Strickland, founding lawyer at Buckhead Family Law explains, “A divorce is one of the most important financial transactions of your entire life. You need to know exactly what the state of your financial affairs is, and if you don’t have that information, you and your attorney can get it during the divorce process. Once both parties have equal access to financial information, it’s a lot easier to figure out how to equitably divide assets and debts and determine the appropriate amount of child support and alimony, if applicable. You need to have a very clear picture of your financial situation both now and moving forward, because in most cases what families can afford to do separately looks very different from what you were able to afford to do jointly.”
On the nonfinancial side, Strickland advises couples to really take their children into consideration. Custody and parenting plans may look different for every family, but stepping back and evaluating what works best for your children is what ensures its success in the future. While your marriage has ended, you will always be parents of your children together.
What do I look for in a lawyer?
According to Strickland, “You need to find somebody who clearly understands what your goals and expectations are, and who is going to communicate with you and provide realistic advice as to the likelihood of achieving those goals. It is important to find an attorney that you feel comfortable speaking openly with. Divorce is very emotional. You’re talking about very personal issues. You need to find somebody who’s able to walk you through this process and explain every step to you, advocating and working for you. Someone who makes sure you understand your rights, that you know what you’re entitled to, explains what the likely outcome of each scenario is, and also what that’s going to cost you along the way, so that you can avoid surprises in what is already a very uncertain time.”
What if I’m the only one who wants to get a divorce?
Unfortunately for many couples, this is actually more common than an amicable split. And more unfortunately, for the spouse who doesn’t want a divorce, they don’t have a choice. Legally, if a spouse wants a divorce, they will get it.
“The spouse not wanting the divorce needs to understand that they do not have the choice to remain married,” Linn says. “They only have two choices: one, to work with their spouse to get a fair and equitable settlement, or two, spend time, a lot of negative energy and use a lot of hard-earned family funds to fight it, even though the divorce will be granted anyway.”
Linn explains that in order to achieve the best possible outcome for both spouses, it is in the second spouse’s best interest to do what they can to cooperate. A lack of cooperation may have an impact on the family funds that will be divided after divorce, because it can get expensive to fight over terms. The good news here is that often, in a mediated divorce, the spouse who wants a divorce is usually considerate in what they are willing to do for the spouse who doesn’t.
“A mediator can help the spouses understand their choices, envision their possible outcomes and help them mediate a fair settlement that both parties will uphold down the road because they made the decisions about the settlement terms, not someone else,” Linn says.
Psychotherapist Annie M. Garry, MSW, LCSW and former president of the Georgia Society for Clinical Social Work adds that, “While friends and family can be a huge source of comfort, they cannot be objective. A therapist can provide an objective and rational perspective that is needed to stay out of the power struggles of a high conflict divorce, diffuse the intense emotions it generates, and arm the person with the skills needed to work through the difficulties of the divorce.”
How are we going to get through it?
“Although one’s specific circumstances are unique, there is a typical sequence of emotional and practical issues that divorced people usually go through,” Garry says, adding that individual therapy can help one to work through the vast array of feelings and turmoil that can accompany those stages.
In terms of the benefit therapy can have on the family as a whole, Garry says, “When a divorce involves children, therapy can be extremely important for couples to make sure they understand how this change is impacting their kids.” She notes, “We want to create an atmosphere where they’re not traumatizing their children or putting them in the middle of what’s happening between two adults.”
Therapy as a couple bears the goal of figuring out how to be co-parents, and gaining the tools needed to help them deal with their intense feelings and the adjustments to come. Working together with a therapist can also teach you how to resolve conflict in diplomatic ways. There are also many group therapy options available locally that allow members to exchange ideas, offer support and share encouragement with others who are going through divorce.
How can I get back to normal?
When the divorce is finalized, it can be challenging to figure out what to do next and how to adjust to a new routine. “You’re left with your family to piece together in the best way you can. This is why we work so hard on financial agreements and spend so much time on developing parenting plans in my office because it’s really important that you have a plan that works for your family, and that you get it right,” Strickland says.
She offers her clients advice and support based on her own experience, saying, “Having been through the process personally, I think it’s hard to start living outside the habit of being married. I’m certainly not a therapist, but I tell my clients to just try and move forward one day at a time, to focus on yourself and think about it as a time to rediscover yourself, your interests, your goals, your friendships, and your career.” Strickland adds, “Remember that you’re not defined by your divorce. It doesn’t mean that your relationship was a failure, or that you’ve failed in life, it just means that this chapter is closing and you’re going to move your life and your family forward in a different direction.”
Kelley Linn, Transitions Resource, LLC DBA-Transitions Resource Divorce Mediation Center, DivorceMediationCenter.org
Melissa Davis Strickland, Buckhead Family Law, BuckheadFamilyLaw.com