Clients who walk into my office for an initial consultation about divorce often feel anxious, scared, devastated or angry. Most people facing separation or the end of their marriage have many questions about the law, their children and themselves. But no matter how many questions are raised, the fundamental and often unspoken concern of most clients is: Will I be okay after this daunting and uncertain divorce process is over?
As a family lawyer, I do my best to assure clients that they, as well as their children, will indeed be okay when their divorce has been finalized. I also stress that the decisions they make and actions they (and their spouse) take will play an integral role in whether they and their family will be okay.
Here are four key strategies I educate my clients about to help ensure they will indeed be okay and have the most positive outcome possible:
Choose a Divorce Lawyer Who Fits Your Needs – Picking an attorney during one of the most vulnerable and challenging times in your life can be overwhelming, but it is one of the most important decisions you can make. I tell my potential clients that selecting a family lawyer is like choosing a doctor or therapist – look for the right fit – and you don’t have to hire the first person you meet unless you feel comfortable. Essential characteristics to look for when selecting your divorce attorney are whether he or she is (1) someone who will help you identify the divorce process best for your situation (i.e., negotiation, mediation, the Collaborative process, litigation or a combination) and not push a specific process – such as filing immediately in Court – if it’s not best for you, (2) someone who will take the time to help you understand your legal rights as well as complex emotional and financial issues that arise in most divorces and (3) someone who you can trust and will be there as an advocate for you throughout the process.
Don’t Engage in Unnecessary Acrimony – “Taking the high road” can be extremely difficult, but it often results in happier and better adjusted children (and ex-spouses) both during and after divorce as well as a better financial settlement or court outcome. Not adding fuel to the fire and avoiding the temptation to bad mouth a spouse to your children or others – even when your spouse is doing the opposite – are in your and your children’s best interest. Keep in mind that children do not like hearing bad things about the other parent and it can be harmful to your relationship as well as their psychological health.
Get Educated: Don’t Bury Your Head in the Sand – Whether you are a dependent spouse that knows little or nothing about finances or the spouse who was in charge of all of the family’s finances, the same message applies: Educate yourself. If you are the dependent spouse, learning about your finances and planning for the future after divorce is critical. If you already know about the finances, understanding the needs of your spouse (including concerns about cash flow and the future) typically helps to move the matter forward toward resolution. For either spouse, the most effective negotiation, as well as court resolution, takes the other spouse’s perspective into consideration.
Have a Positive Mindset and Be Realistic about Expectations – Although divorce is often described as one of life’s most difficult transitions, with the proper support and time to heal, it can also be a springboard to a different and, sometimes better, future. When my clients are nervous about the future, I share inspiring success stories of people in similar situations who were empowered to go back to school, to launch a new career or business, to become self-sufficient in managing the family finances or to become better and more involved parents. I also encourage them to have a positive mindset – including taking care of their physical and mental health during the divorce process – as well as to have realistic expectations about potential outcomes.
If you are unsure about whether you will be okay after divorce, you are not alone. However, you can successfully transition from the ending of your marriage to a new, and hopefully better, future by establishing a strong and trusting relationship with your family law attorney, taking the high road, being educated and having both a positive mindset and realistic expectations about the future.