There’s are very few things quite as disquieting as realizing – or being told – that your marriage is over. Contemplating a divorce is no easy feat; it never is, not for anyone.
There’s a period in time, before anything is anywhere near finalized, where everyone feels on edge. If you’re living separate under the same roof (as, honestly, many couples do before they actually finalize their divorce) during your period of legal separation, the uncomfortable feelings are even more intense. Couples often report much more bickering during this time, even if the decision to end the marriage was more or less amicable. (And, in cases where the decision to end the marriage was not amicable, all bets are off!)
In my experience, things get worse before they get better – but they do, eventually, get better. But there’s still a period in time when no one knows what to expect and where that uncertainty can work against you.
So, if you’re facing a divorce and you’re wondering what you should do now, you’re not alone – and you’re smart to be asking. To help answer that question, I decided to write this article.
First thing’s first: try not to overreact.
I know, I know. It’s not all up to you. Your body’s fight or flight is triggered, and you feel unsafe. You feel scared, and overwhelmed, and maybe even angry. There’s a lot going on, and you’re not entirely responsible for the feelings that you’re feeling.
It’s important to recognize them, to name them, and to not let them rule you. Make careful, specific decisions, and don’t give in to bad decisions ruled by unreliable emotions. See a therapist if you’re really having trouble managing your thoughts and actions. Far from being a ‘black mark’ on your record, it can be one of the most productive, healthy, and truly good things you do for yourself (and, by extension, your children) through this process.
Keep in mind that the decisions that you make now will help shape your divorce. If you react in volatility and fear, then you’ll likely trigger the same reaction in your soon-to-be ex spouse. If you’re hoping to have a relatively amicable divorce, a relatively amicable separation is going to be beneficial.
It’s not easy – don’t think I don’t know that! Just also know that the work you do here, now, is going to be critical for divorce success later.
Two: Get educated about divorce in Virginia.
It’s easy to sit back and listen to divorce horror stories, or to listen to whatever your husband is telling you about divorce. It’s easy to give in to fear. We all do it sometimes, and it’s one of our more toxic traits.
What can you do about it? Listen to your negative self talk, or the talk that you’re hearing around you, and make a conscious decision to educate yourself. How is custody and visitation handled in Virginia? How is spousal support calculated? How is retirement divided? What’s going to happen to the marital residence?
Whatever it is that’s keeping you up at night, research it. Chances are pretty good that the facts aren’t nearly as doom and gloom as whatever it is you’ve been worrying yourself about. I know that, when it’s me, I go to absolute worst case scenario – homelessness, misery, depression, whatever – regardless of whether that’s actually a realistic possibility.
Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies, and the fear can gnaw at us until we’re really not able to deal productively with situations.
That’s fine, as long as you acknowledge it, and take steps to combat it.
Three: Consider what YOU want out of your divorce.
Too many people go into a divorce blindly. They’re already scared and emotional, and that’s already not a great headspace. It’s certainly not a headspace that is conducive to making carefully thought out, rational decisions based on a set of goals and priorities.
I do think it’s wise to consider your goals. As women, we’re way too likely to think about things from someone else’s perspective – what does he want, what will he be going for, and so on. It’s easy to think about things from other people’s point of view. But, a lot of times, I find that when I ask my clients and prospective clients what they actually want out of the divorce, they’re not really able to answer me.
It’s also not just a question of a goal, but a question of the feasibleness of that goal. You’ll want to think it all the way through, from beginning to end, to make sure that the goals you have for yourself are ones that will serve you well, both in the short term and the long term.
It’s not just a question of dividing everything in half. It’s a question of priorities, and I definitely encourage you to think about yours. Is there a best case scenario that you’re after? Maybe you want to stay in the home, so the kids can stay in the same school. That’s a worthy goal, for sure. It’s definitely one to really consider. Maybe even talk with a financial specialist. Make sure you can afford it. Look at other options available to you, too. Consider the cost, not just of the mortgage (or of the refi to buy out your husband’s portion of the equity and title the home in your own name), but of the taxes and insurance. Consider the cost of repair, upkeep, and general maintenance, as well as improvements. Keep in mind the cost of things that your husband previously did – like lawn care – that may fall on your shoulders. Will you do it? Will you pay someone else to? Is that in the budget?
It’s easy to think of a goal – especially an emotional one – and then rush towards it without considering all of the costs or disadvantages associated with it.
If you’re trying to offset the payment of your husband’s portion of the equity by taking less in retirement, talk that over with a financial advisor, too. You want to make sure that you’re making sound, rational, financially savvy decisions – not just emotional ones.
This is a hard one. It requires a LOT of work. If it’s daunting to you, well, that’s probably not surprising – but that doesn’t mean that the work is any less important. You have to identify goals, and then think through them, with an open mind so that if you need to reassess and reidentify goals you are in a position to do so.
It’s not just goals that are important, it’s the ability to refine and reassess to make sure that your goals are in line with where you want to ultimately end up. After all, it’s a long game, not just a short one. You can’t let your desire to, say, stay in the home work against your longer term goals of financial security and stability.
It’s definitely a lot to think about, but having an experienced family law attorney on your team (as well as, potentially, a therapist or other mental health professional and financial advisor) can help put you in the best position possible to live happily ever after.
You may think it’s a bit weird to think about ‘happily ever after’ in a divorce context, but I’m convinced that’s what all these conversations are about. It’s not just a divorce, it’s a second chance at the kind of life you envisioned for yourself. If this one isn’t working, whether for you or him or both of you, you get a chance to try again. To do better. To choose something more in line with who you are now.
And that’s a beautiful thing. I’m so glad you’re considering all these things; it’s really going to be helpful for you as you carefully plan your next steps.
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