No one goes into their marriage thinking there’s a 50% chance they will get divorced, but the fact is that almost half of all marriages do end in divorce. While few would advocate preparing a plan for divorce before any signs of trouble even emerge, once there are signs, or even more importantly, once it becomes clear that the marriage is likely to end, preparing for the process can be vital to achieving an amicable divorce settlement.
Those of us who grew up in the 1970’s and 80’s, tend to think of the divorce process in terms of the ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ model, where two sets of lawyers battle it out in court in an effort to “win” the best outcome for their client. Thankfully, what we see much more often these days, is couples trying to come to a more amiable solution to the complex and often messy process of untangling a marriage. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that most people have come to the (correct) conclusion that the traditional adversarial divorce rarely leaves either spouse feeling satisfied, and, particularly where children are concerned, can cause significant, and long-lasting emotional damage.
In light of that, for those who may be in the unfortunate, but all too common position of contemplating a divorce, and for the sake of themselves and their family, would like to try to do so in the most peaceful way possible, here are some preparations one should consider before making any concrete decisions.
Do Your Homework and Learn About How the Process Works
The first thing to do to prepare for a potential divorce is to learn about the process and the steps that will need to be taken once the decision has been made. Educating yourself on the various models that can be utilized to reach a divorce settlement is extremely important as well. In addition to the traditional lawyer-vs-lawyer-in-court model, more amiable methods such as mediation or collaborative divorce are now much more common, and can offer a path to achieving the kind of nonbelligerent settlement negotiations most would hope for. In these alternative dispute resolution models, often in mediation, and always in collaborative divorce, multiple team members are utilized, each specializing in a particular area of the process – mediator, lawyer, mental health professional and financial planner – and work together towards a solution that benefits the whole family.
Finally, knowing what steps take place at which point in the proceedings can help to mitigate surprises along the way, and reduce the stress that most feel when they are hit with something unfamiliar.
Get Organized Financially
There are many decisions that will need to be made during the divorce process that will affect each spouse and the children for years to come. This can be made worse when one spouse is completely in the dark as to the nature and scope of the family’s full financial picture. Taking the time in advance to get familiar with the assets, debts, income and expenses of the family can make negotiations much smoother later on. Creating an inventory of assets and liabilities, and a budget, both for the family as a whole and as a projection of what things will look like post-divorce, can empower a person during the financial negotiations, and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed when those negotiations take place.
Try to Avoid “Knee-Jerk” Reactions
Going through a divorce is extremely stressful, and most of us, when faced with extraordinary stress, don’t always think things through before we act. Add to that a spouse who may be adept at pushing our buttons, and it becomes all too easy to become wholly reactive. This very rarely helps us achieve our goals, no matter how good it may feel in the short-term to fly off the handle once in a while. Try to understand what your triggers are and develop strategies to cope with them when they come up.
Once negotiations begin, understanding the importance of different types of negotiating, can be a key element of achieving compromise. Position-based or positional bargaining is the traditional method of negotiating. Each person commits to a position early in the process and thinks only of their own wants and needs. On the other hand, interest-based bargaining, is a method of negotiating that focuses on meeting the underlying concerns, needs or interests of both persons involved in the negotiation. In interest-based negotiating, rather than saying things like “I want the house” or “I want full custody of the kids,” which can create conflict right from the outset, each of you is encouraged to communicate what is important about an issue rather than arguing for a specific position or solution.
When going through a divorce, it is common to feel abandoned and alone. The loss of a marriage in many cases, is not just the loss of a spouse, but often also the loss of your partner, closest confidante and best friend. It’s important to remember that no matter how isolated you may feel, you are not alone.
Recognize that there are sources of divorce support that you can leverage to help you sort through the myriad of feelings you’re experiencing and learn how to deal with them in a healthy and constructive way.
When you can control your emotions, you can better prepare yourself for your divorce negotiations and approach them with a calm, level head.
Focus on the Big Picture
The decisions that will need to be made during the divorce process will affect you and your children for years to come, so try not to get mired in fighting over little issues that may not really matter to you, or trying to “win.” Nobody really wins in divorce, but if you focus on what’s most important, like your children and your future, and keep the end-game in mind, you’ll have a much better chance of not only divorcing amicably, but achieving a settlement you can feel comfortable with.