10 Steps to a Successful Divorce
Divorce can be challenging in many ways – on an emotional level, physically and financially. One good method to cure part of this stress would be to get rid of uncertainty regarding how divorce is handled and things to expect. Despite the fact that particular elements could differ from state to state, there are particular actions one will need to take so they can efficiently accomplish their separation.
- Determine whether you in fact want a divorce. Is the relationship reparable? Have you really tried to work out your differences? Have you tried marital therapy? If you haven’t, it is recommended that you do so to work through your issues and open lines of communication. If it is determined that divorce is inevitable, engage the therapist to help you deal with the issues you are going to have through the process and ongoing if you have children or shared interests.
- Decide HOW you want to divorce. You won’t be able to judge how successful your divorce was unless you begin with thinking about the “how.” Since there are at least five different ways to get to a final judgment (litigation, collaboration, cooperation, do-it-yourself, mediation) this is the first step to consider.
- Locate professionals who will support your definition of successful divorce. There are attorneys who will not advise those who choose a mediated or do-it-yourself divorce. Others are not trained in collaborative divorce. Still others consider themselves “pit bulls” or “sharks.” Hiring a pit bull will not support your decision to use the collaborative process, so it is not likely that you would have a successful divorce if you chose a professional who does not (or cannot) support your choice of how to divorce. Also engage an accountant, financial planner and therapist (if you haven’t already done so). The better understanding you have regarding your and your spouse’s finances and can keep your emotions in check will lead to a better result for both of you.
- Develop a personal support system. Divorce is emotional, even if you are the spouse initiating the process. And that is key – divorce is a process, not an event. You are moving from a romantic partnership to a business relationship and that can be difficult when your emotions are on overdrive. Sometimes family and friends are not the best source of support, even when they are very well-meaning. That’s why the most successful divorce has a team of professionals, including divorce coaches or counselors.
- Take Stock. What issues need to be settled in your divorce? What martial assets are at stake? Are there any debts to divide? Before you and your spouse open discussions, gather together current documentation concerning all shared assets and liabilities from your marriage, as well as proof of your income, recent tax returns, insurance policies, 401K plans, IRAs, receipts from recent major purchases, a detailed family budget, and other pertinent information (see our divorce financial checklist for needed documents). You can never have too much documentation, so don’t leave anything out.
- Find out what your spouse wants. Before making your desired outcomes for the divorce known, take the time to listen to your spouse and find out what he or she really wants. This tactic helps with negotiating for two reasons. First, when people feel listened to and have the sense that their views are being taken seriously, it goes a long way to lowering the tension in the room; listening to your spouse’s needs means your spouse will probably be more willing to listen to your own. Secondly, understanding what your spouse wants can help you identify some possible bargaining chips. If she wants the vacation home, but you want a greater percentage of the stock portfolio and secretly don’t care about having a second home, having this kind of information can be an easy to quickly negotiate an outcome you both find acceptable.
- Prioritize what you want. It might be nice to keep the living room furniture set you worked overtime to afford. But if comes down to digging in about the furniture versus paying your spouse a little less in monthly alimony because she gets her wish to keep most of the contents of the house — which one sounds better? As you prioritize, think about what’s best for your future finances, your family’s future, and what you are willing to give up in order to get a better life moving forward.
- Get the Momentum Going. You may have a feeling (or know outright) that a fight over child custody or alimony is looming. To set the stage for more peaceful discussions about these kinds of hot button issues, try to reach agreement on as many smaller issues as you can to get momentum going in your negotiations. Discussing hard to solve issues first tends to derail negotiations because it can lead to tension that spills over onto the issues that follow. After battling through child custody negotiations, for example, suddenly that flat screen TV that you were willing to let go of may seem like a huge deal, and another fight erupts. Your divorce attorney can help you identify issues in your divorce that should be easy to settle.
- State Your Position, Not Your Demands. Before sitting down to negotiate, take time to formulate your position on the issues, being careful to use language that states a position rather than putting forth a demand. For example, instead of telling your spouse, “I want our child 50 percent of the time,” try something along the lines of, “Our child loves both of us. And we both love him. As such, I think 50/50 parenting time gives our child the best option to continue developing loving relationships with both of us.” If needed, write these position statements out beforehand and have them in front of you during negotiations.
- Create Win-Win Scenarios: In drafting your position statements, also consider ways you can frame settlement options as something that solves a problem for both of you. In negotiations over the family home, for example, instead of telling your spouse, “I want the house,” try explaining the situation in more win-win terms: “Our house is old and requires frequent repairs. I made most of the repairs while we lived there and did so inexpensively compared to hiring a repairman. If you want the house you will end up spending a lot money for repairs, including the new roof we both know is needed. Also, I will need to find another place to live, costing us both more money in the end. So to reduce costs for both of us, I think it’s better if I live in the home and you receive your equity share.”
- Let Go. The end of a marriage is almost never without emotional fallout. But know that bringing anger, frustration, and jealously into the negotiating room — and making decisions based on purely emotional reasons — is an almost surefire way to not get what you want in the long run. Whether it takes seeing a therapist, buying a punching bag, meditating, or just watching funny movie and having a laugh with a friend, do everything you can to be in a more neutral frame of mind when you sit down at the negotiating table. And as your goal in getting divorced is to move on with your life without your spouse, more often letting go of the anger and hurt and learning to forgive will help you truly move on for yourself and your children. As I always tell my clients, you gain by losing…