I was in court today. Something I try wholeheartedly not to do whenever possible. Not because I’m not a skilled litigator (I am), but because it is such an awful experience for most people — even when they “win.” Having been on the other side of the table a few times as a plaintiff in a civil case and witness in a criminal case, I have the unique perspective of understanding how it feels to be in court with a room full of strangers hearing the most intimate aspects of your life. I also know how it feels to leave your case up to an (imperfect) human (aka judge) to make decisions that may have a long-lasting impact on your life. Add to that the tension, bitterness, and grief in the air and it can feel utterly overwhelming.
So, having litigated, mediated, negotiated, and collaborated on over 1,000 family law cases in the last 13 years, I can tell you that things are (thankfully) changing for the better. Unfortunately, it’s not the lawyers that are changing (for the most part), it’s the consumers. And while we have a long way to go before consumers are really in the driver’s seat when it comes to divorce, we are making good headway. By changing the way we “break up,” lawyers will have to follow suit.
Since launching Hello Divorce just about a year ago, I’ve taken a clue from our awesome users as I’ve watched how they gracefully navigate out of relationships and into the best version of themselves. So many of them are clear that they want their experience of divorce to be different than the prevailing thought around what divorce looks like. Below are the new and improved rules for splitting up as modeled by many of our users. This isn’t to say breakups aren’t hard or divorce is easy — it’s not. Never. But there are ways to ease the pain and use the crisis as an opportunity for growth.
- Surround yourself with people who make you want to be the best version of yourself. One way to ensure that your divorce will be miserable is to spend your time with people who constantly bash your ex, dwell in the past, encourage you to “fight,” and stoke the fire. To have an empowered experience of divorce does not mean you fight to win everything. Doing that will likely send you into extreme debt and keep you miserable. Surround yourself with people who inspire you, uplift you, and keep you focused on what matters most.
- Get educated. One of the most frightening experiences of my life was navigating the legal system without understanding the system. It certainly is complicated but it’s not brain surgery. Get the tools and resources you need (from a reliable source) and pair that with a “tour guide” (i.e. a great legal team and/or divorce coach or certified divorce financial planner) to walk you through the process. When we don’t have knowledge, we feel out of control. And we all know how lack of control manifests itself — in so many ugly ways.
- Keep your divorce conversations productive. I know, easier said than done. The communication issues you had during your relationship don’t magically go away after the separation. But, there are a lot of things you can do to help move your divorce toward resolution, starting with determining what you really need and what you can live without. Next, remember that divorce doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. You both can come out of the relationship with “wins” and in heartfelt integrity. Finally, use “I” statements when discussing divorce-related stuff with your ex and watch your tone (and try to be sober too). Focus on yourself and what you want moving forward.
- Find a lawyer who will focus on your needs and wants and not on what they think you need. How do you do that? Best option: word of mouth referral. If no one you know and love has been through a divorce recently, do your research. Spend some time on the websites of potential lawyers. Check out their “About Me” page. Is their copy user-friendly? Do they talk like a human or do they use lawyer speak? Run away if all you see is legalese, negative imagery (the husband and wife each grabbing a child’s arm and pulling), or the word “aggressive” written over and over. “Aggressive” is usually code for “I have a terrible reputation, most people dislike me, and I haven’t settled a case in 10 years.”
- If your divorce is uncomplicated or moderately contested, consider hiring a legal team that offers flat-fee services or limited scope representation. These are new options and people like you are paving the way for a user-friendly, cost-effective, transparent legal experience. At Hello Divorce, we offer flat-fee services through our Divorce Navigator and/or membership options depending on the level of assistance you need.
- Self-love. If you’ve explored our platform or read some of my previous articles, you know this is my absolute favorite thing to remind people to embrace. Poet Nayyirah Waheed once wrote, “you. not wanting me. was the beginning of me wanting myself. thank you.” Perfect, right? Want yourself, believe in yourself, stop giving yourself a list of “shoulds” (I should be feeling better, I should start/stop dating, etc). Just let yourself “be.” And while you’re at it, download our self-care worksheet to design a self-care plan you’ll actually stick to. Remember, our path to mind and body “wellness” is being truly “enough” for ourselves.
- Make the focus about 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 all those negative thoughts into what we want for ourselves and our relationships going forward? S/he doesn’t deserve all of your energy, time, and attention.
Ultimately, remember divorce is not who you are, it’s simply where you are at. Sometimes the hurdles we face can feel overwhelming and paralyzing. Balancing work, home, and/or parenting is hard enough; add in a breakup and we are stretched thin. Just remember, nothing is permanent. You will find joy. You will find peace.