Divorce involves a lengthy battle between negative emotions and rational thought, between short-term “gotchas” and long-term realities. If clients make one overarching mistake in the divorce process, it would be allowing an unhealthy balance between the emotional and the rational, the short-term and the long-term.
No one expects any spouse to go through a divorce without feeling emotional. The end of a relationship and having to suddenly face a future as a single person will jolt even the most stoic individual. Your lawyer will try and help you stay more rational than emotional, but it will not be easy.
Why does it matter how emotional you are during the divorce? First, we tend to make poor long-term decisions when we are emotional. We will find ourselves thinking about our pain and trying to “get even” when what we really need to do is figure out how we want life to look post-divorce and how we will afford that life. Second, when we get emotional, we can swing from one position to another. For example, we may start out thinking I want the giant house and I want sole custody of the kids, only to later realize you cannot afford the house or wanted less time with the kids. Your lawyer cannot negotiate from a position of strength and trust if the client changes strategies midstream. Also, the legal process tends to commit us to a particular approach from the outset, so a change becomes not only difficult but also counterproductive.
So, the first step in helping yourself and your lawyer proceed with your case is to sit down and hash out what you really want out of the divorce. Your lawyer will give you a list of items to consider, the odds related to each outcome, and ask you to rank your preferences, because you cannot get everything you want and you cannot be taken seriously if you start by asking for everything. Additionally, you can only push hard for a few critical items on your list – and you have to know what you would be willing to give up to get those items.
Begin with your current living arrangement and decide how important it is to you to stay in that residence. Can you afford it after the divorce? If you need financial assistance, will your spouse have the ability to pay maintenance? If so, what amount does your lawyer think will be reasonable to the court? Do you really want to use most of your maintenance on the residence, or would it be better to use those funds in multiple ways to build your new life? If you do not want the current residence, do you want your spouse to have it or do you want to sell it? Where do you want to live? What can you afford? Would downsizing make sense over the long-term? How much do you have for retirement? How long do you want to keep working, and at what level of income? If you have been out of the workforce, are you prepared to reenter it? If not, what amount of retraining or additional schooling will you need and how will you pay for it? You must resolve all of these critical financial issues in order for your lawyer to help you prioritize your fight.
Next, think about custody. What do you think will be best for the children? What are your reasons? If you think you and your spouse cannot have equal time and equal responsibility, what evidence do you have to support that claim? Are you prepared for sole legal custody or sole physical custody? Do you appreciate what that level of commitment as a single parent means? Are you capable of giving up certain other aspects of your life in order to have that custody arrangement? Do you have any concerns about domestic abuse? Do you have proof? If you have the majority of custody, but need to work, do you have the support systems in place?
Finally, think about support. If you are the spouse paying support, do you think you can manage financially at the presumed support amount? If not, what would you be willing to trade to have a lower level of support? If you are the spouse receiving support, what is the bare minimum you would need? Is the presumed support amount too low for your budget? What would you trade for more support?
Once you have worked through these issues and decided on your preferred options, begin ranking each option in importance. Is custody more important than the house? Is support preferred to more work? In your ranking, you want to identify which items are non-negotiable and which you would trade in order to obtain your most important goals. A well-organized, well-thought ranking will best enable your attorney to reach a settlement, or strategize for court, to maximize your outcomes.
In the next post, we will discuss other stumbling blocks to your divorce after you have your ideal plan.
If you have questions about divorce, contact us – we can help.