Clients often ask me early in the process how they can avoid an acrimonious divorce. In some instances, either because one of the spouses suffers from mental illness or addiction, or is simply difficult, avoiding a challenging divorce may be impossible. This blog provides a few considerations to avoid allowing your divorce to spiral out of control.
1. Pick Your Battles. Divorcing spouses who elect to wage battle over each disagreement often find themselves deadlocked and unable to make any progress in dissolving their relationship. The outcome of most disputes with your spouse won’t matter a year down the line but can lead the spouses to entrenchment on the issues that will matter in the long term. This does not mean conceding to your spouse’s every demand, but rather avoiding fighting over trivial issues where compromise is possible.
2. Plan the Process Early. Because of the uncertainty involved in the process, divorce is an inherently anxiety-inducing enterprise. The chemical effect of that anxiety on the brain often leads spouses to oppositional thinking in the pursuit of regaining the feeling of control and certainty. Where possible, planning for mediation, collaboration on the exchange of information, and a step-by-step path to completing the divorce may provide enough assurance for both spouses to make better, considered decisions.
3. Avoid Letting the Past Guide Your Decisions About the Future. It is only natural to believe that your feelings about your spouse and your relationship should influence the outcome of your divorce. However, your spouse’s deficits – whether your spouse was demeaning, abusive, or emotionally unavailable – usually have little to do with the divorce’s outcome. Letting your feelings control your objectives and strategy in your divorce is a recipe for disaster. Your divorce is ultimately a transaction, the dissolution of the most important partnership in your life. Divorce is not catharsis.
4. Altering the Status Quo. Attempting to change the status quo – the current state in which you, your spouse, and your children live – is a near-certain recipe for a fight. Altering the status quo to some extent is usually unavoidable and may provide a needed tactical advantage, but making sweeping or purposeless changes often yields fighting where none is necessary or productive. Where possible, do not cancel your spouse’s credit cards, attempt to move your children, or give away your property without a very good reason for doing so.
5. Hiring Professionals Who Cannot Get Along. Not all professionals act professionally. In some instances, the professionals have bad blood. Others have challenging personalities and do not get along with others. But hiring a lawyer who cannot work with your spouse’s lawyer – or worse, the judge presiding over your divorce – is usually a bad idea. Your prospective lawyer may not always give you a completely forthcoming answer when you ask about his or her relationship with your spouse’s attorney or the judge if your spouse has already filed. Still, it is worth asking and gauging the response.
Good attorneys guide their clients through the divorce efficiently and avoid the potholes that will set their clients back emotionally and financially. Finding the right attorney is important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is to avoid a turbulent and emotionally taxing divorce.
Written by: Benton H. Page