Trading in the Attorney for a Happy Divorce

When my ex-wife, Nikki, and I began the divorce process, I really didn't know what to do or where to start. All I knew was that I was angry, resentful, and full of fear and that I had lived through the awful divorce of my parents. So, if you add up the negative feelings I was processing and my past experience of divorce, the only solution I came up with was to make Nikki the villain and try to destroy her.

So, I hired a pit bull attorney. When I met with my lawyer for the first time and told him what I wanted, he almost seemed excited about the task of going for the jugular. When I look back at that meeting now, he was not only acting as a lawyer,  he was also trying to be a friend and a therapist – but not in a positive way. He fed the fire that was building inside of me with gasoline. After we met, he had me sign an engagement letter and give him a $10K retainer. About a week later, he created a 30-page "attack plan" for how we were going to "destroy" Nikki.

I did not read his plan right away, but not long after, I was on a flight back from Los Angeles and decided it was the right time to read it. I pulled it out, and after reading two or three pages, I got an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that told me this document and this plan of destruction was not going to end well for anyone. I started thinking about my parents' divorce and the pain and unhappiness it caused me. I started thinking about our son, Asher, and how I didn't want him to have the same awful experience that I had during my parents' divorce. I didn't want to "destroy" his mother or cause harm to him. 

So, I called off my pit bull lawyer. I told him that I was going to find a different option than the one he was offering and asked that he please send me back the remainder of the retainer. A few days later, I received a check from him for a few hundred dollars. Awfully convenient.

The path of rigorous honesty

After putting the attack plan to bed, I called Nikki and told her that I was not in the right frame of mind to deal with the details of the divorce and that I needed some time to get myself in a good place. Otherwise, this divorce was not going to be good for anyone. She agreed, and I started down a different path. I knew that the path had to start with rigorous honesty and a genuine understanding that it takes two to make a relationship and two to break it.

Through life experience and working on myself, I knew that in every resentment I have had in my life, no matter what the other person had or hadn't done, I played some role in that relationship. I had to find my part in the ending of my marriage. At the end of this inventory of our relationship, it was crystal clear that I wouldn't have wanted to be married to the person I had been. I was not a happy man, and it manifested itself in our relationship. This whole time, I had been pointing the finger at Nikki for our problems when, in reality, they were justifiably pointing back at me.

Making amends

The next step in the process was making amends with Nikki and admitting my part. I called her and asked her to coffee. We met at Starbucks and sat down at a table outside. I told her that I loved her and that I was sorry for the man that I had become and for my part in the ending of our marriage. Then the magic happened unexpectedly. Nikki then apologized to me. This was the first (and maybe last time) that we sincerely apologized to each other. We had cleaned up the wreckage of our past. As humans, we all have the right and capacity to be happy, but that only really occurs when we live in the present. Nikki and I could never have a "happy divorce" or anything close to that if we continued to live in the past and continued to play the "if only" game: "If only she had done that," or, "If only he hadn't done that."

The last question (and the most important) I asked Nikki at that meeting was if she had any problem with us doing everything 50/50 when it came to sharing time with and making decisions about Asher. I told her that "this approach is the most important to me and that all the other sh*t can be worked out." She agreed.

Moving forward

We didn't have a handbook on what to do from here. We were in a much better place, but things were still raw, and there were still hard feelings. Ultimately, we chose a pretty important mantra that gave us a lens through which to view everything.

Read: I'm Getting a Divorce: Which Service Should I Choose?

Through the lens of "What's best for Asher"

While it was time to end our marriage, we still shared a deep love for our son and a desire to co-parent him together. We realized we couldn't be successful co-parents if we let our lawyers control our divorce narrative and pit us against each other. So, we agreed that every time a decision got difficult, we'd look at it through the lens of what was best for our son. We did that when it came to dividing assets, separating finances, making our co-parenting schedule, and determining who and when we would introduce Asher to a new partner. This one (big) thing we agreed upon helped us come to an agreement on other big decisions.

It was a pretty simple idea, although it was by no means easy. But it made the decisions easier because it took ego and selfishness out of the decision-making process. A perfect example of how we used this lens to make our decisions was when Nikki asked me to make sure I was committed to any woman before I brought her around Asher. If I had made that decision through an ego lens (and it was my first thought), I would have told her she had no right to tell me who I could and couldn't bring around my son. But through the "what's best for Asher" lens, I could see it was the best thing for him not to have a revolving door of women coming in and out of his life. I also knew that Nikki wasn't asking me to do this because of jealousy or a desire to control me but because she had his best interest in mind.

Commit to the process

Our happy divorce did not happen overnight, and it was not easy. We didn't walk away from that first coffee shop meeting and everything was perfect. It took time. We took it slow and really faked it until we made it. There were roadblocks along the way, but we remained committed to not sticking Asher with an emotional bill he had no choice in.

The most important piece of advice I can give someone who is going through a divorce and who is motivated to do it differently is to take it slow but be committed to the process, and don't let friends, family, or lawyers (especially) deter you. At the end of the day, you're in control of how your divorce goes, not your lawyer.

Our divorce was difficult and complicated, but we both came out stronger, wiser people for it, and we're both better parents to Asher. And to his new siblings! Nikki and I have both remarried, and both of our partners feel the same way we do about keeping our children at the center of our lives as we all co-parent together.

Learn how we got to this point (and how you can, too) by reading our book Our Happy Divorce. Find it on Amazon or wherever you buy books.

Related: 10 Tips to Make Your Divorce Less Expensive and Easier
Divorce Author
Benjamin co-authored the book Our Happy Divorce with his ex-wife about how ending their marriage brought them closer together. Our Happy Divorce is about inspiring people to think differently about divorce, co-parenting, step-parenting, and what it means to put kids first.