It’s not hard to point out all the flaws in the legal system when it comes to divorce. What is hard is knowing how to not only survive—but thrive—in the divorce process. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of transparency for how it all works. Traditional divorce operates with lawyers hiding behind a fortress of information, obscure legal terms and vague timelines.
When you don’t know what to expect or how to protect your interests because the system and laws are so complicated, divorces get messy and expensive. That’s why I founded Hello Divorce. We aim to take the mystery out of divorce so that soon-to-be ex-spouses gain the knowledge and assurance they need to divorce better—with peace of mind.
Over my 16+ years as a divorce attorney, I’ve learned proven hacks that have helped 1000s of people have a friendlier, cheaper and less stressful divorce. Here are some practical solutions to help you feel empowered, in control (or, at least a lot less overwhelmed), and a lot more comfortable moving forward with your divorce.
1. How and when to end your marriage
One of the hardest and most time-consuming steps in the divorce process happens before anyone files—the time before you or your spouse actually decide the marriage is over. There’s no clear-cut answer to when you should stay or if you should go, but there are a few questions you can ask yourself to get clear on whether or not it makes sense to keep trying:
- Are both of you willing to actively work on your marriage?
- Are you staying together only “for the kids?”
- Is there physical and/or emotional abuse?
- Do your children have a peaceful home?
- Are you still intimate? If not, is there contempt for one another?
- Does your relationship constantly leave you feeling drained, sad or overwhelmed?
- Does your spouse constantly bring up hurtful and triggering things of the past?
- Can you talk without fighting? Or, do you refrain from talking because you don’t think they’ll listen or care?
- Do you constantly fight about the same thing(s) without a constructive resolution or path to better communication?
And if you or your spouse have made the decision to divorce, these are five key questions you should answer before deciding whether to move out. In short, you need to evaluate your finances, any potential legal consequences, a general parenting plan if you have kids or pets, and then take care of practical things pertaining to your new address.
File for divorce sooner rather than later. If you think it’s better to wait for the kids to get older or for when this or that falls into place, you are almost always better off filing as soon as you’ve decided you no longer want to be married.
2. Know your options
Your divorce should happen your way. While the traditional method involves “lawyering up,” this is rarely the best approach for most divorcing couples. Many times, mediation helps far more (and saves you money) than hiring a lawyer. You can meet with a mediator separately or together. Or, if you and your ex can agree and just need to complete the paperwork, using our online software and/or getting help from one of our account coordinators might be all you need.
3. Set ground rules
Establishing the ground rules of your divorce will help you feel more in control and reframe your relationship with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Assure your spouse that you don’t want a war.
Even if you don’t agree on all the rules, you can clearly lay them out so your ex understands your expectations. See what you can agree on when it comes to “how” you’ll divorce. You don’t have to fight or fix the marriage anymore—you should now just have one common goal: a kinder, easier, cheaper divorce. Remind yourself of your core objectives: the best interests of any children, and a happier future for both of you.
4. Treat your divorce like a business deal
Because guess what? It is. As emotional as divorce is, you must be able to handle the business side of things without letting emotions cloud your judgment. People make a lot of financial mistakes in divorce, and this happens most often when their emotions have taken over.
5. “Prioritizing peace over being right” – Gabrielle Hartley
No winner takes all. From dividing your stuff to working out parenting plans, it’s easy to get caught up in the who-gets-what game. As hard as it is, focus on fairness. By compromising and choosing your battles, you’ll both get more of what you want. Remind yourself that physical things are far less important than your core values, keeping the peace and moving forward with your life.
6. Get help—but lawyering up should be the last resort
If you and your ex can’t work everything out amicably on your own, hiring a mediator, financial advisor or another third-party expert can save you a lot of money, time and conflict. Use our free planning worksheets and checklists. You can feel a lot more in control, organized and ready for what’s next by downloading and using our free resources that help you through every step of the way.
7. Take it one step at a time
Divorce is an overwhelming process, even when you and your ex agree on everything. Don’t get too ahead of yourself or expect things to flow quickly. Focus on whatever needs to be done right now. While we do advise planning ahead, don’t expect the legal process to be as organized as efficient as you. It almost never is.
8. Complete the easiest to-dos first
As you take it step by step, always tackle the easiest stuff first. Even filling out one simple form is a step forward, and can help you feel like you’re making progress. One easy thing might be that if you recognize something is too outside your comfort zone to move forward on it confidently, you get advice before it becomes a bottleneck or leads to unwarranted amounts of stress.
9. Communicate clearly and honestly
Honestly is your friend in divorce, from telling your kids that you’re separating to providing all the necessary financial disclosures. Even if you don’t think your ex is entitled to some of your assets, you need to lay it all out on the table. Speak up before your divorce is finalized so you don’t have regrets or need to reopen your case after you think it’s all behind you.
10. Set realistic expectations and understand limitations
Every state has different rules, waiting periods and requirements. Know what they are so that you provide all the paperwork required for each step. Know that as prepared as you are, the courts have their own systems (along with delays due to things like court backlogs, COVID, etc.). You can’t force the judge to sign off, but you can do some things to help speed up your divorce proceedings.
You should also understand the limitations around your divorce. Is your ex a procrastinator? Don’t expect them to complete any paperwork as quickly as you want them to. Just accept that you can’t control everything, and rely on others for support.
11. Forgive yourself
Guilt and shame come hand in hand with the end of a relationship. What could you have done differently? Was it selfish to leave? Did I try hard enough? Did I give up too soon? The answer is: you tried your best and did the best you could with the information you had at point A, B and C. Now, you must forgive yourself. You can’t move forward until you let go of all the what-could-have-beens. There are no guarantees in life, and things change whether we want them to or not. The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to focus on the now, and make plans for your new future.
12. Be kind—to yourself and your ex
You always want to be the bigger person who tries to stay positive, productive and as objective/focused on best interests as possible. This is even true if you have major concerns like an ex with substance abuse issues who is seeking custody, etc. Bad-mouthing never helps.