You know the old saying, “If only I knew then what I know now”? Well, it applies to just about everything—including divorce. It’s hard to go through something (really, almost anything) for the first time. Whether you’re talking about going to college, having a baby, buying a house, or getting a divorce, the big things in life come with (sometimes pretty steep) learning curves.
You don’t want to be at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to something as important as divorce. You know that there’s a lot at stake—really, pretty much everything financial! And don’t even get me started on custody!
The good thing is that, like most things, you can do the research ahead of time so that you don’t get any nasty surprises later on down the road. Research really is key—not so much because it means that things will suddenly work out differently than they would have, but because you can begin to plan, to strategize and, maybe even more importantly, just not stress too much. Some of the scariest parts of any new experience just come from the newness of it all. There’s no reason to lose sleep or stress yourself out wondering about the unknowns when you can find out the answers to your questions.
Just like with everything else, there are people who have been there before and have a lot of wisdom to share. So many people have been divorced before (and, in some cases, even more than once) that it would be silly not to at least try to learn from their experience. Right? Of course right!
Because of what I do, I talk to a lot of people who’ve been divorced before. They’re full of those little, “I wish I had known,” tips and tidbits that I just know are especially helpful to people who are considering their first divorce. I gathered the best 7 tips here, so that you can benefit from the wisdom of a second timer, even if it’s only your first (and, hopefully, only) divorce.
Here are 7 things that a second timer would tell a first time divorcee.
1. There aren’t a ton of “ways” to get divorced; you either get divorced in court or with an agreement.
When attorneys talk about divorce, they tend to talk about different “types” of divorce—negotiation, collaboration, mediation, litigation…and the list goes on. Really, though, there aren’t different “ways” exactly. To get divorced, either a judge makes a decision or the two of you negotiate a result.
What’s ideal? Well, of course, to some extent it depends on you. Is it likely that you’ll reach an agreement? Can you reach a decision that’s “fair” (or, at least, relatively so) to both of you? In most cases, regardless of how contentious things seem at first, though, an agreement is a possibility. In most cases, agreements are cheaper, easier, and quicker than when you go to court. Not only that, but there’s more to divide (because less has been spent on attorney’s fees as you prepare to litigate).
So, when you go into your attorney’s office, keep in mind that the options are either to negotiate an agreement or go to court and let a judge decide.
2. One of the most important decisions you make is the attorney you hire.
It really does matter whom you decide to hire. (Of course it does, right? You knew that!) But it’s easy to get confused, too, when it comes to divorce attorneys. If you Google, you’ll find tons of choices—but who is right for you?
Just like it’s important to do your research about the process, it’s important to take some time out to consider the person you’re considering hiring. Any good divorce attorney knows that every case is unique, and will take your concerns seriously. A good attorney will listen carefully, make suggestions, and help point you in the right direction. A good attorney is kind, compassionate, and careful with your money. A good attorney is professional, experienced, and makes you feel safe and secure when you listen to him or her talk.
Need help picking an awesome attorney? Read my (free!) book on selecting a family law attorney. Just click here, and we’ll help you sign up and get a e-copy of the book right away. (If you live in our immediate area, you can sign up to get a hard copy, too! If you’re like me and like writing in the margins and highlighting important text, you’ll be glad you got one.)
The right attorney can make or break your case, because she will help you negotiate that perfect agreement, represent you well in court, and zealously advocate for you when speaking with guardians ad litem, opposing counsel, or judges. The right attorney, in short, can make all the difference in the world. Be careful when you’re deciding who to hire!
3. It is possible, though, especially if your divorce is uncontested, to avoid hiring an attorney entirely.
More and more women these days are choosing to move forward with divorce without hiring an attorney. Is that the right choice for you? Maybe!
If your divorce is uncontested (meaning that the two of you will be able to reach an agreement), it’s definitely possible that you could move forward with your divorce without spending the money to hire an attorney. Uncontested divorces are the easiest divorces, and more and more people choose to handle their own all the time, especially as more resources are available on the internet to help.
4. The best divorce is the one that leaves the most money after all is said and done for you (and, by extension, your ex husband) to get the fresh start you need.
I feel like this shouldn’t have to be said, but it does. Time and time again, I have women come in who tell me that “it’s not about _____, it’s about the principle.” Whenever I hear that phrase, I see red flags popping up all over the place. To me, that’s a lot like saying, “I don’t care what it costs, I just want to prove that he’s wrong.” It’s not necessarily about proving that you’re right, in most cases, it’s about proving someone else wrong. And, though understandable in many cases, it’s not productive or helpful.
I don’t care what happens to him after your divorce, and probably neither do you. I hope that he keeps his job, so that he can continue to make child and spousal support payments on time and without trouble. I hope that he chooses to be a good, involved dad. I hope that he seeks therapy, if necessary, and that the two of you are able to at least be amicable. But his best interest is not my job or my concern. My chief responsibility is to make sure that, after all the dust settles and the final decree is signed and notarized and submitted, you have what you need to start over.
I’m not doing my job very well if I encourage you to pursue dead ends. And, even though the principle may be very important to you right now, it’s probably going to be expensive. And is that the best use of your money? Probably not.
One thing that second timers know that first timers don’t is just that the principle isn’t worth it. That things will die down, and this one little issue won’t seem so important (even if it seems huge right now). Let it settle. Save your money. Because, sooner or later (and I’m betting on sooner), things will settle down and the post divorce you would prefer to have that money to outfit your new apartment, put down on a new house, stash away in the kid’s college fund, or take that bucket list trip you’ve been waiting to take. Trust me (and the second timers) when I say: no, really, it’s not the principle.
5. The children should always come first, no matter what you’re feeling.
It’s easy to say that the children should come first. In fact, most people DO say that. But, in some situations, actions speak louder than words, and what I hear is not so much that the best interests of the child are paramount.
Sure, the kids are important. And they stay important. But, even as the parents are saying how important their kids are, they are making choices that don’t underscore their words.
Second timers keep the kinds in mind better. Since they’ve been there before, they know what matters and what doesn’t, and they don’t let little blips on their radar become full out crises. I know, I know; it’s difficult to get a divorce. It’s scary and overwhelming and it’s hard not to feel powerless and out of control. The momma bear instinct can rear it’s ugly head and, instead of protecting your children, you make mistakes.
The more you can keep the kid’s best interests in mind (and the more open you can be to suggestions for how to work with them through this transition), the better off you’ll be.
6. Talking to a therapist can be one of the healthiest, most productive decisions you can make.
It’s a difficult transition, no matter how many times you’ve been through it. Another one of the things that sets second timers apart is their willingness to ask for help when they need it.
If you’re in a tough place or having a difficult time dealing with your divorce, get help. The courts won’t hold it against you, and it can help you get back on your feet and be the best parent you can be through it all.
7. They’ve attended Second Saturday: What Every Virginia Woman Needs to Know About Divorce
Our happiest first-timers (and most knowledgeable second timers) have attended our monthly divorce seminar. We teach it twice a month in Virginia Beach and Newport News (for updated times and schedules, CLICK HERE), and it’s designed to cover pretty much everything you need to know about divorce cases in Virginia. Each seminar is taught by one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, so you’ll have an opportunity to ask your questions without paying for a consult first. The cost to attend is just $40 if you pre-register, or $50 at the door.
Second timers indicate the greatest degree of satisfaction in their divorces, and there has to be a reason why. I think, personally, that they just know what they’re getting into and are prepared to deal with them. There’s a lot to be learned from second timers, especially if you’re interested in getting all you can out of your divorce (and leaving out as much frustration as possible). For more information about Virginia divorce, to register for one of our seminars, to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, or give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.