I’ve been in the divorce industry for 15 years. As a lawyer, law firm owner, and now (also) as a legal tech entrepreneur who has launched Hello Divorce, the first of its kind “divorce with benefits” online platform offering on demand legal help and wellness support.
I love what I do. Some might call me a proponent of divorce. I’m not. But I do believe, as my friend and colleague, Gabrielle Hartley, wrote about in her new book, some people are better apart. And for those people, I know that while initially a rough road lies ahead, with resources, access to information, quality (and affordable) legal help, a lot of self love and (for some), spiritual guidance, we can turn a breakup into a breakthrough: a new happier, healthier version of ourselves and a thoughtful reorganization of family.
The origin of the word “relationship” is the quality or condition of connection. After struggle and heartbreak, if that connection is not met with an equal exchange of energy and/or a solid foundation of give and take, the right choice is often a breakup.
But, it’s no easy feat. Divorce is not only emotionally challenging, but the divorce system itself is wrought with procedural and legal complexities that can feel so very overwhelming. For years, I answered my clients’ questions and worked to allay their fears about the divorce process. Calming divorce overwhelm is a big part of why I launched Hello Divorce. A starter membership to Hello Divorce is free, and our users get all of those answers and more. But I’ve selected a few of the most frequently asked questions I receive to answer here, to help you start to push past the stress, gain control and ultimately, embrace joy (again).
1. Where do I start?
Start with you. As much as most of us would prefer to climb under a rock and hide until we emerge joyful and independent, it doesn’t serve you to go at it alone. Reach out to your support system, or build a new one. It could be as simple as joining a Facebook group for divorcing people or an online support group through Divorce Force or Meetup. Psychology Today also has a helpful searchable database for divorce support groups around the country. Look around – really look – and you’ll see so clearly that people actually like giving. People like to be helpful, and in fact, research suggests that helping others actually increases happiness and overall wellbeing. So, if you are concerned that your friends or family won’t know what to say or do, send them to this article and/or remind them that “stoking the fire” doesn’t do any good. If you get stuck and don’t know to whom or where to turn, flip the situation. Imagine yourself as a friend to someone else going through divorce. What advice or love would you bestow on them?
2. Ok, but then what? How do I “do” divorce?
Once we hear or say the word divorce (and finally mean it this time), this can help bring relief. Relief of finally saying it – of finally making that decision, of no longer pretending to be that “happy” couple. The relief may be there for you (or it may not be), but sometimes the anxiety and overwhelm still creeps in.
Take this process step by step. As much as we may want to speed things up, this process is a marathon, not a sprint. Very rarely does anything happen overnight. In most states even the most contentious divorces that go to court take weeks before the first hearing.
Now that your patience is in check, it’s time to get smart. Educate yourself about the divorce process and how it works in your state. This will do wonders in helping you manage your own expectations about the process and in raising your level of comfort with the process itself. If you’re in California, our free Divorce Navigator breaks down the complex process into four manageable steps, or print out our California divorce flow chart.
Consider your options. There are many ways to work through the process. If your divorce is uncontested or mildly uncontested, you may choose to work through the paperwork on your own, without representation (or with limited legal help, if needed). Mediators are also a terrific option for couples who want to set the terms of their divorce without the court intervening. And you already know that a lawyer can help you through the process. Just remember that if you’re choosing a mediator or a lawyer, you can (and absolutely should) interview before you commit. Make sure you are comfortable with the person you choose to work with, because you’re going to be opening up every aspect of your life to them as you work through this process.
3. Will I have to go to court?
Here’s my legal answer: it depends. If you and your spouse have chosen to DIY your divorce or work with a mediator, and can generally come to agreement, you may be able to keep things out of court. However, if you can’t come to agreement, or if you have an especially complex case involving children or multiple properties, it may be more likely you could find yourself in court.
If that happens, don’t panic. Prepare. Check out my resource Divorce Court 101 (or Family Court & Child Custody 101) for tips on everything from parking to what to expect during your court appearance. And you can get tips here for how you (and those accompanying you) should dress for court. Depending on your specific situation, going to court and appearing before a judge who is impartial and who will decide on your case or issue through the lens of the law – not emotion – could actually be a good thing.
4. How much am I going to have to pay in child or spousal support?
That also depends. On your income, your ex’s income, who has primary custody, and more. If you head over to Hello Divorce, you can use our calculator to get a rough estimate of what you might expect to pay (or receive) in child support payments. You can also learn whether your bonus income will affect the support you pay, and learn what your options are for long-term spousal support.
5. Is there a divorce fast track? How can I speed things up?
If you’ve been married for less than five years and meet eight other criteria, you may qualify for a summary dissolution, which is typically a much faster process than divorce. (Though keep in mind that you’ll still need to abide by the 6-month waiting period after the date your Petition for Divorce is served.)
But the more realistic answer is: maybe. The length of time it takes to finalize a divorce can vary widely, depending on your circumstances. It can also largely depend on how quickly your ex moves on their pieces of the process. But there are things that you can do to expedite things on your end. Be informed, be organized, be truthful and you can keep the process moving forward on your end. (See also: 10 Tips to Make Your Divorce Easier and Less Costly)
6. When my divorce is final, then what?
Breathe. Celebrate. Reflect. Give yourself permission to do what you need to do to mark the end of this chapter and the beginning of your next.
Then, double check your legal loose ends. Has your Qualified Domestic Relations Order been prepared and implemented? If not, take care of this to ensure that you get your respective share of your retirement account down the road. Will you be restoring your maiden name after divorce? Update your auto and home insurance policies, driver’s license, credit cards and even your emergency contact info at work.
This is also the perfect time to reassess your finances. Once your divorce is final, you should know exactly where you stand financially. Meet now with a financial professional to make sure you’re on the right track to be where you want to be financially, in the near term and over the long term.
For more advice on wrapping up your divorce, check out my article, It’s Over: The Checklist You Need for Your New Beginning.
This is a lot. I know. But the more you know about the divorce process, the less overwhelm you’ll feel. If you take anything away from this article, let it be these three actions: stay informed, stay organized and make sure you lean on your support network. You do not need to do this alone. We’re here for you when you need us at Hello Divorce, and you’ll find that more people than you realize will want to show up to support you in this process. Let them. Because someday, they might just need you to do the same for them.