It’s easy, when you’re angry, to make the wrong decisions. Almost all of us act out, somehow, in anger, fear, or frustration, and we usually regret the things we’ve said and done while under the influence of our most extreme emotions. It can be difficult to control these emotions, especially when your marriage is failing. Add in some sort of fault (adultery, cruelty, desertion, whatever) and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
When women come in to meet with me the very first time, they’re usually upset. A lot of them cry, or swear, or tell me terrible stories about their husbands. Whether there’s fault or not, it seems like it almost always feels that way. After all, years and years of unhappiness or misunderstanding have built up and, by the time you meet with a divorce lawyer, you’re at the breaking point. You did everything you could to save your marriage and, for some reason, you just couldn’t do it.
The hardest cases are the ones where the women are primarily concerned about what their parents or their church will think of them, now that they’re considering divorce. “No one in my family has ever been divorced before,” they say. Or, “My church says divorce is an abomination,” they’ll admit.
I’m not a therapist, so sometimes I feel ill equipped to deal with these situations. I’m just a divorce attorney! Still, I’ve seen a lot of divorce, and I’ve been around a lot of women who have said these things to me. In my experience, I’ve noticed that these women tend to make a lot of mistakes when it comes to their divorce, because they’re so wrapped up in the emotions that they’re feeling that they fail to really take the time to think about what’s important.
What’s important in a divorce?
To put it simply, the absolute most important thing in a divorce is where you’ll wind up after it. We’re talking about all sorts of things—what’s going to happen to you financially, and what’s going to happen to you personally. What will custody be like? Spousal support? How will your retirement accounts be divided? At the end of the divorce, you want to be in the strongest position possible based on your unique goals. Goals won’t be the same for everyone, but the most important thing is remembering that, at the end of all this, you absolutely will want to be as strong as possible. Imagine yourself, at the end of your divorce, and ask yourself, “How do I get there?”
Holding on to anger, guilt, resentment, shame, or whatever emotion you’re currently feeling is only going to hold you back and prevent you from concentrating on what’s most important to you. It cripples you and keeps you from thinking critically about your future—your current reality.
The beginning of your divorce is the hardest, because you’re facing so much unfamiliar territory. You separate, you talk to your friends, family and children, and you start to plan for how things are going to go. If you’re in an emotional place, you can’t make the best decisions possible.
What should I be doing at the beginning of my divorce?
Before things really get going, you should sit down and talk to an attorney about yourself—what brought you to this point, what your priorities are, and how you might want to think about achieving them. All too often, I see clients who are feeling hurt, sad, angry, or scared, and they make rash decisions without really listening to their attorney about what the best course of action might be.
I’ve seen women do crazy things at the beginning of their divorce, and they almost always pay for it later. I’ve seen them offer their husbands everything, in exchange for being able to keep custody of the kids (only to have dad later make a motion to change custody because mom lacks the means to support them). I’ve seen women sign agreements sent over by their husband’s attorney in an effort to have the divorce be over with as soon as possible (only to find out that the law would have given them so much more than they got). I’ve seen women insist on filing for divorce in the court immediately and alleging detailed, horrible, upsetting fault based grounds, only to have her allegations cost her husband his job (and, subsequently, reduce the amount of child and spousal support she can receive). I’ve seen women insist on handling everything in court in front of a judge, only to wind up spending tens of thousands of extra dollars on attorney’s fees.
It’s normal to feel emotional, and it’s also normal to have a hard time separating yourself from those feelings. Divorce is a complicated, emotional, difficult thing to have to experience, but the best advice I can give you is to do your best to make the decisions about how you plan to move forward as objectively as possible. You’ll have a lot of information thrown at you, and you’ll need to make a lot of big decisions, but you need to take the time to make the best decisions possible.
How should I make sure that I’m making the best decisions about my divorce early on?
The most important thing you can do is talk to an attorney about your unique situation and really listen to the attorney when she’s giving you advice. Take notes. Think about it for a couple of days. Talk to a friend, your mom, or someone else you know who either gives really good advice or has been in your shoes before. Ask questions. Think—a lot. Don’t make hasty decisions.
We also recommend that our clients talk to a therapist, if they need to. We often find that the clients who really take their own health into their hands during their divorces end up being the best adjusted at the end of the process. If therapy isn’t really your thing, try yoga or meditation. If you’re not into that, kickboxing, martial arts, or running. Join a support group. Get on meetup.com, and find a group of people who do other things you’re interested in—cooking, reading, wine drinking, movies, or weekly dinners at new restaurants in a trendy new part of town. Whatever you choose to do, find a way to relax, socialize, and find the peace that you need to make the best decisions for you and for your future.