OK, so you feel totally stuck. All you want is closure and 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? To know me is to know that it drives me crazy that everywhere we look, divorce is seen as an event. The truth is, it’s a process. It takes time. Both emotionally and legally. In fact, if it’s been a couple 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 when you start the divorce and when it can be finalized. So moving quicker doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll finalize your divorce any faster.
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 are going to have to pay support, you’ll 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, then 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 she or he 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, get on the same page with your significant other about a realistic timeline for the major events related to your divorce. Chances are (but not always) 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? Or can you agree that if you don’t come to a resolution by a certain date that you’ll get help from a mediator? At this time, you can 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? Then 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 helps keep you and your spouse focused on the important stuff that meets your joint and individual goals. Not only does mediation save time but it also give 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 lawyer 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 that you are not only doing everything correctly but also receiving fair and equitable treatment.
4. Consider getting help from the court
If you and your spouse reach an impasse, you can request that the court helps you sort out issues that are keeping you from moving toward a resolution. Not getting help — or at least not until you get before an actual judge — brings a lot of uncertainty for an extended period of time. Find out if there’s any local procedure in your county to help you. Usually you must file a document titled “At Issue” or “Request for Status Conference,” or something like that. 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 nonadversarial way of getting your divorce before the court without having an actual hearing where you’re fighting against each other.
5. Take your spouse’s default (California)
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, it means he or she is giving up the right to have a say in the divorce and you can move forward without their involvement.
During this time of emotional and legal uncertainty, live in truth the best that you can. Speak your mind about what matters to you and act with integrity toward your spouse no matter how painful the whole 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.