By developing a strategy at the start of your divorce, you will feel a whole heck of a lot more comfortable living in transition and facing the unknown. You will also have an easier time turning this chapter of your life into a new one with a better, stronger, healthier version of yourself.
At Hello Divorce, we understand that a lot is at stake right now. We also understand that you are likely struggling with hundreds of emotions that pull your attention away from practical considerations. That’s why we created this article outlining the steps to take to get your divorce strategy on point.
You don’t have to know or do everything. You just need the right information, support, and resources. We’re here to help.
Of course, your strategy might change throughout the course of your divorce, and that’s OK. But let’s get you started on the right foot.
Step 1: Establish 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” they will follow while navigating their breakup and transition to divorced life.
If you can make this happen, do it. Work together to determine when, how, and where will you discuss divorce-related topics. Then, prioritize what you will discuss. For example, how and when will you tell the kids? What types of professionals will you hire to help you through this process?
Separating couples who start with these basics before advancing to more complicated stuff often fare much better.
Step 2: Learn the basics
Although we might imagine life after divorce, that transitionary step between marriage and divorce causes a lot of stress.
Many of our fears involve not knowing what to expect. Divorce is not always a linear path, sorry to say, so you may be working through the steps sideways and that’s ok. But whatever stage of the process you are in, you can find clear guidance about the paperwork and analysis you’ll face.
We also offer a wealth of information, tools, and curated resources on legal rights and responsibilities, self-care, financial guidance, and co-parenting. Don’t limit yourself to lawyers. Most lawyers view law in a vacuum, and that’s not going to best serve your complex life. Get answers from reliable sources. Get comfortable with the “maybes” because there are a lot of them. And get educated because, as you already know, knowledge is power.
Step 3: Determine your approach
Divorce is legal. It’s the dissolution of what likely is the most complex financial and personal contract you will ever enter in your life. There are several ways to go about finalizing the agreements made in a divorce. Our two cents: Don’t go at it without thinking through your method.
There are several ways to divorce. Here are the most common.
Mediation works when it’s done right. You work with your mediator, together or separately, to reach an agreement on all divorce-related issues. This approach is generally one of the most cost-effective options, as hiring lawyers and other experts often costs $25,000 or more.
Mediation generally happens with a trained mediator or lawyer, but not always. Sometimes, people choose a co-parenting counselor to resolve issues related to their kids or a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) to help with financial issues.
Mediation can be a great way to reduce animosity, finalize your divorce efficiently, preserve some of the confidentiality of your private life, and resolve conflict. However, it only works if there’s no power imbalance, both parties agree to be transparent with finances, and each spouse earnestly desires a settlement.
With our Cooperative Divorce Mediation service, we give clients 5 focused hours with a mediator. We also offer a la carte mediation services by the hour (for when you just need a little help getting to an agreement) for all states. Although it’s definitely not needed with Hello Divorce’s mediation, spouses sometimes choose to obtain their own lawyers before or during mediation for personal review and advice.
With Hello Divorce’s mediation, we seek creative options for complicated issues. We review the eventual agreement to make sure it says what it’s supposed to say and advise clients on best-case and worst-case scenarios.
If you and your spouse choose mediation, read our blog post, 6 Steps to Take Before You Begin Divorce Mediation.
Although collaborative divorce is expensive, it’s not as expensive as a highly contested divorce in which both parties have their own lawyers and experts and battle it out in court. It’s also a hell of a lot less painful and disruptive than a litigated divorce.
A collaborative divorce is a legal process that allows the (former) couple to avoid the uncertainty of court and achieve a settlement that meets (some of) the needs of both parties and their children. Each party has a lawyer, and several other professionals usually contribute as well.
Like mediation, collaborative divorce is a voluntary process. So, if your ex is a jerk and says no, this is not an option for you.
Additionally, if negotiation breaks down and no agreement is reached, you’ll have to start over with a new lawyer (think: $$) because your collaborative lawyer is precluded from litigating with you.
With this strategy, each party retains an attorney. Your lawyer prepares the necessary paperwork and works with your ex’s lawyer toward an agreement.
To the extent that issues cannot be resolved, you usually end up battling them out in front of a judge. Many lawyers are litigation-centric. They run to court for every little issue, or they are not proactive enough early in the process, making litigation inevitable because they didn’t address issues in a timely fashion.
As an example, think about school choice. If that’s a contested issue between you and your ex and your lawyer fails to address it early on, you could end up fighting it out in front of a judge because there’s no more time to work through it with a licensed mental health professional (co-parenting counselor) or special master (parenting coordinator).
If you select this path, don’t choose the first lawyer you meet unless your instincts tell you they are the right one. Choosing a lawyer is an intensely personal decision. Seek referrals, research credentials, and read what potential hires have written.
Working it out on your own (with some help along the way)
Hello Divorce is not the only “virtual” platform popping up these days to help guide you through a divorce.
What makes us different is that we offer several options, allowing you to choose the path that suits you best. Our range of services includes a best-in-tech DIY divorce, documents and processing handled by divorce experts, and access to divorce managers who can help you strategize, prepare or review paperwork, and coach you through the process.
Most people require some form of legal advice at least once during the divorce process. It’s nice to have access to an expert when you need one for limited-scope help at a flat rate.
For uncontested or moderately contested divorce, Hello Divorce or a similar option might work perfectly for you. However, if you’re divorcing a “narcissist” or someone who is ready to do battle (or you’re just having a particularly hard emotional time), you’ll likely want to hire an attorney for full representation to take some of the pressure off of you and to respond if things get out of hand.
Step 4: Be patient
Divorce is an aggravating process. Because you likely want the fighting to stop, it’s tempting to rush through it as quickly as you can.
Well-intentioned people in your circle might also try to push you too fast. Leah Morris, a life and relationship transition coach, recently shared some wise words with us:
“Everyone will try to rush you out of your feelings because, let’s be honest, “feeling” is sometimes really hard to do. However, running from negative gut feelings like anger, sadness, loneliness, and pain only prolongs the lesson that must be learned. Difficult emotions are usually there as a catalyst to transform us. So, take your time.”
We advise you not to rush your divorce. Instead, plan your strategy, thinking about the impact of each decision. Once you sign your divorce agreement, it’s difficult, expensive, and sometimes impossible to amend it.
We view divorce as a journey. A process. You don’t simply announce one day that you’re divorcing and the next day, the marriage is over. Divorce is a method by which you transition out of your marriage and re-prioritize your relationships — especially your relationship with yourself.
Keep the information from this article in your hip pocket. Years of experience have taught us that you can and will make it through your divorce, likely in a better place than you have ever been
As renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel says, “Ending a marriage goes beyond the signing of divorce papers. And divorce is not the end of a family; it’s a reorganization.”
It takes a lot of self-work, but with the right strategy, support, and some serious self-love, this experience will catapult you into the next stage of your beautiful life.