OK, so you feel totally stuck. All you want is closure, yet your divorce is lingering on and on. You’ve tried everything. You’ve tried nothing. You don’t have any clue what to do next. You have a list so long, you don’t know where to start.
Relate to any of this?
First things first: Are you really stuck? It seems that everywhere we look, divorce is seen as an “event.” The truth is, it’s a process. It takes time, emotionally and legally. In fact, if it’s been a couple of months since anything “legal” has moved forward with your case, you actually might be “right on time.” In most states, there is a waiting period between the point you start the divorce and when it can be finalized. So, moving quicker doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll finalize your divorce any sooner.
But what if you really are stuck? Well, let’s get you “unstuck.” Below are five actionable ways to move your divorce forward now.
1. Get the information you need
Divorce, for many people, is the most complex financial contract they will ever dissolve.
Don’t go at it (completely) alone, and don’t make decisions without seeing the goods. If your spouse has a retirement account, you need the documents. If you have to pay support, you need to know your spouse’s financials. (Think beyond W-2 wages. What about income from investments? Or tax deductions like mortgage interest? Or health insurance premiums?)
If your spouse won’t give you this documentation informally, consider engaging in the discovery process or requesting a subpoena to get the information directly from the employer or financial institution that holds it. Gathering this documentation now will save you time later.
While you’re at it, give your spouse the information they will need to evaluate their position, too. In the long (but not too long) run, that will be important to have, so you might as well get it done now.
2. Set a timeline
If possible, by email or in person, set a timeline with your soon-to-be-ex for the major events related to your divorce.
It’s highly possible that your spouse also wants progress but is paralyzed by fear (of the unknown) or is avoiding it altogether.
Can you agree on dates for the exchange of proposals, offers, and a global settlement? Can you agree that if you don’t come to a resolution by a certain date, you’ll get help from a mediator? At this time, you could also work on choosing a mediator so if that happens, you’re ready to go.
3. Consider mediation
Are you and your spouse willing to work together to dissolve your marriage in a fair and cooperative way? If so, mediation may be the answer to keeping your divorce moving along.
Mediation is a cooperative process between a couple and an independent party, or mediator, to help resolve issues and reach a settlement that feels fair to both spouses.
You may find that having an unbiased neutral party focuses you and your spouse on the important issues so you can meet your joint and individual goals.
Not only does mediation save time, it gives you and your spouse an opportunity to make decisions about your future lives rather than having a judge make the decisions for you.
In addition to mediation, you might consider consulting with a legal coach. A legal coach is a professional who advises and directs you to the extent you need without you having to retain an attorney for traditional full representation. A legal coach can increase your confidence during the mediation process so you know you’re doing everything correctly and receiving fair and equitable treatment.
4. Consider getting help from the court
If you and your spouse reach an impasse, you can ask the court to help you sort out the issues that are keeping you from moving toward a resolution.
Not getting help—at least not until you go before an actual judge—brings a lot of uncertainty for an extended period of time. Find out if there is any local procedure in your county to help you. Usually, you must file a document titled “At Issue,” “Request for Status Conference,” or similar. It tells the court that you aren’t moving forward in your divorce and that you need some help resolving the issues, whether they be spousal support, child support, or property or debt division.
Filing such a request is a non-adversarial way of getting your divorce before the court without having an actual hearing where you’re fighting against each other. However, a word of caution: Once you’re in the court process, it’s complicated. At a minimum, you will likely need a lawyer to help you with the procedural complexities. And, well, that’s expensive and can often ramp up conflict.
5. Take your spouse’s default (only an option in some states)
In California, if one spouse files a divorce petition and the other does not file a response, it is considered divorce by default. If your spouse does not respond to the divorce action in the time specified by law, they give up the right to have a say in the divorce. You can then move forward without their involvement.
During this time of emotional and legal uncertainty, live in truth the best you can. Speak your mind about what matters to you, and act with integrity toward your spouse, no matter how painful the situation may feel. Focusing on being your best self can help ease that lost feeling that often comes with unwinding one of the most significant relationships of your life.