How to Stay Out of Divorce Court
This article is not, "How to Avoid Getting a Divorce." I'm not a relationship expert, and I'd never be so bold as to say I know how to save a marriage. Rather, this post is for you if divorce is in the cards and you want to do everything possible to keep the cost and conflict in check.
In other words, you don't want to pay (on average) $27,000 to hire a divorce lawyer. You don't want to air all of your dirty laundry in an open (and sometimes online) court.
Even if you didn't want to break up, or your STBX* is a nightmare and the picture-perfect "conscious uncoupling" is not going to happen, there are still many things you can do to have a productive divorce ... and a ton of things you should avoid to prevent all-out war.
Some of this is common sense advice, but hey, who's using common sense right now? With divorce, coronavirus, fires, hurricanes, remote learning, and international conflicts, sometimes we all need a good reminder of how to keep on keeping on.
*STBX = soon-to-be-ex (spouse)
What to do to avoid divorce court:
- If you are the initiator, be mindful of how you break the news to your spouse of the divorce. You might be angry. And that's ok. But your ex is still a human being who has feelings and EGO. Swallowing your pride and being kind is one step in the right direction.
- Be prepared with options. "If we are both committed to resolving our divorce peacefully, we can use Hello Divorce." Or, "I know we have some complicated issues to resolve. Let's consider working with a mutually agreeable divorce financial planner before we start the legal forms." Letting your spouse know there are options beyond lawyering up in the traditional sense is educational and shows your commitment to staying out of court.
- Put the focus on you, not your ex. We can find a million+ reasons why our relationship fell apart because of our ex's actions (or inactions). What if we channeled those negative thoughts into what we want for ourselves and our relationships going forward?
- Find a lawyer who will care about your needs and wants and not what they think you need. If DIY is not your thing, I get it. We offer legal coaching in Colorado, California, Utah, and Texas (more states coming soon) to give you strategic guidance without ramping up conflict.
- Set ground rules. Many separating couples (successfully) choose to meet together or with a third party, such as a wellness coach or therapist, to discuss the "ground rules" for navigating their break-up and transitioning to divorced life. If you can make this happen, do it. Work together to answer questions like when, how, and where will you discuss divorce-related topics.
Will the end game be an agreement you both can live with? What types of professionals will you hire to help you through? How and when will you tell the kids? Separating couples who answer these basic questions before moving on to the more complicated stuff often fare much better.
- Swallow your pride. "Thank you for clarifying that for me. That makes so much more sense." So what if they recited to you exactly the point you've been trying to make for months? Keep settlement conversations productive. If that means complimenting them or patting their back, so be it. Then, grab a glass of wine, get a massage, or do some other form of self-care to recover.
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What not to do if you are trying to avoid divorce court:
- Expect your STBX to move as quickly as you want them to. You may have had months (maybe years) to think about divorce: to plan, manage your emotions, and basically wrap your head around it. The "D" news might come as a surprise to your spouse, even if it shouldn't. Forcing them into a legal process might only ramp up things, although that may be what has to happen if you're facing a safety crisis.
- Threaten to hire the most aggressive lawyer in town. Why not? Because they might just hire the most aggressive lawyer in town. "Aggressive" doesn't mean better. It's usually code for, "I will run up the biggest bill you have ever seen. I might even make more money on this case than you receive in a settlement."
- Prioritize facts over feelings. It's brutal, but to the extent possible, separate your emotion from the business part of the divorce. You're negotiating the dissolving of a big contract (the marital contract), and you are bound to feel the emotional weight of ending a relationship. BUT when you let your emotions drive negotiations, well ... do I even need to tell you?
- Withhold info (lie). I know what you're thinking. I got this bonus waaaaay after we separated. It's mine, and they don't need to know about it. I'm sorry to report that you are wrong. Transparency is king in divorce law. Just because you disclose an asset doesn't mean you have to share it equally (or at all). But your spouse gets to know. Being transparent with finances is not only the law, it's a way to build trust in the divorce process and usually leads to settlement early on.
- Expect the communication issues you had in marriage to magically disappear in divorce. You know what triggers your spouse. There are ways to be persuasive without hitting each one of them. And, if you can't seem to communicate without each convo spiraling into hell and chaos, maybe it's time to have a lawyer write a settlement offer or venture into mediation.
You may feel like there's no way you and your ex can stay out of court. And maybe that's true. But I'm absolutely certain there are at least a few things you two can agree on. And for everything you agree on, that's one less trip to the courthouse.
An "amicable" split doesn't mean easy. It just means you are focused on a resolution as opposed to amplifying all that went wrong or is wrong about your ex.