Sarah’s situation was somewhat typical. She had just discovered that her husband was having an affair with a co-worker. She had two elementary-age children, both with learning disabilities, who needed special services and lots of attention. She was a stay-at-home mom who had been out of the paid workforce for nine years. Because the family had recently relocated from Kansas in order for her husband to take a new job, she had no family and few friends in the area that she could turn to.
Sarah was pretty emotionally raw when she first saw a divorce lawyer. She was in denial that her marriage was really over and had been begging her husband to give up the other woman and go into marriage counseling with her to try to save their marriage. She was panicked about her financial future and about her kids’ well-being. She had no idea what to do and in what order.
For his part, Sarah’s husband had already been to see a divorce attorney and had a custody and financial agreement drawn up for Sarah to sign.
Sarah’s attorney initially focused on three areas with Sarah: getting stability, maintaining the status quo, and slowing things down.
Getting More Stability Due to the recent move from Kansas and her husband’s decision to leave the marriage, Sarah’s attorney felt that she had lost most of her natural support system. A key recommendation was to identify a good therapist who could provide her with emotional support and help her sort out her confused and conflicting feelings. The attorney also urged Sarah to be candid with her family about what was going on and to seek their support as well. Sarah also began to gather and organize information about the family’s assets as well as her monthly expenses so that she felt more knowledgeable about her finances.
Maintaining the Status Quo Sarah opened up a line of communication with her husband about the immediate issue of creating trust around finances. She and her husband jointly agreed that neither of them would move assets, close credit cards or make significant expenditures without consulting with the other. They sat down together and went over the passwords for the various accounts so that each of them could check on the status of each account online. They also talked about a short-term schedule as to when he would commit to parent the children so they could have predictability and so that Sarah could get a break.
Slowing Down the Process Sarah was reassured that it was too early in the divorce process for her to be trying to analyze the draft agreement that her husband had given her. She needed time to heal, to gather and analyze information, and to clarify her own goals and priorities. At the same time she needed, with support, to accept the reality that a divorce was going to happen and that it would not be in her best interests to try to delay for an unreasonably long period of time.
Sarah was able to demonstrate to her husband that she was taking significant steps to move forward without adopting the rushed timetable that he was advocating. This compromise, early on, set the foundation for a productive divorce process for Sarah and her husband.