Whether you saw it coming, initiated it yourself, or were blindsided, divorce is never easy. It is, for all intents and purposes, the end of something you once thought was permanent. Therefore, it’s easy for anger, resentment, and other such powerful emotions to cloud the divorce proceedings that follow and make them much more painful both in terms of emotions and expenses. If measure are not taken, for instance, to help you deal with the grief of divorce, you could turn your divorce attorney into a therapist and thus skyrocket the cost of his or her services. And if that sadness morphs into anger and you lose sight of what you really want from your divorce — a good relationship with your soon-to-be co-parent, the respect of your kids — the consequences are severe. Following the right divorce advice, then, is important.
To help steer you properly, we spoke to a variety of divorce lawyers, mediators, and relationship experts for some steps to take to ensure your divorce is as painless as possible. Here, then, are 19 pieces of divorce advice, for helping to make the process as painless as possible.
1. Know What You Want
The number one thing you can do to set yourself up for a happy divorce is to dig into what you want on the front end of the divorce process, notes Angie Hooper a lawyer and certified professional coach. “Deciding to get divorced — or getting served with papers — is such a stressful time, but you must figure out exactly what you want, need, and are willing to give up,” she says. “All divorces have to balance speed, finances, and emotional impact. Without knowing your ‘must haves’ and your ‘negotiables’ in each category, you’ll end up with a divorce that leaves you feeling damaged, disempowered, and unable to move forward.”
Dr. Carissa Coulston, a psychologist and relationship expert at The Eternity Rose agrees, and notes that one of the things that makes any divorce difficult is when arguments arise over who gets what. “Too many couples blunder through the process picking fights with each other over little things like who gets to keep the expensive TV that was only bought a few months ago instead of focusing on what’s really important,” she says. “Before you embark on the divorce process, think carefully about what you actually really want out of it. Be clear about what you want and, more importantly, what you need.” Just because you want something doesn’t mean you have to have it, she adds. “There will be things that your ex-spouse needs more than you do, and you’ll have to be prepared to consider the reasons for this and be prepared to compromise.”
2. Think of the Children
“Divorce inevitably involves compromise,” says Emily E. Rubenstein, founding partner of the Law Office of Emily Rubenstein, a divorce and family law firm in Beverly Hills. “Sometimes these compromises are hard to swallow, and you’ll be tempted to fight over nitpicky things. It’s intense and emotional.” But, she adds, think of all divorce decisions with children in mind. “It’s easier to accept certain compromises, which are usually inevitable anyway, when you can see the bigger picture.”
3. Look to Mediation…
Mediation is often the best course for couples who want to end their marriage amicably. In mediation, two parties work together, with the help of a neutral facilitator, to settle their matter outside of court. The goal of the process is for a couple to work through their situation in an efficient, customized, and cost-effective manner. “It allows the parties to resolve their issues confidentially while minimizing the stress associated with their divorce,” says Dori Goikhman, an attorney-mediator and founder of Off the Record Mediation Services. “Oftentimes, mediation allows the parties to rebuild their trust, and it is particularly helpful if there are children involved and the parties will need to continue co-parenting long after their divorce.”
Dori Shwirtz, a divorce attorney and marital mediator agrees that mediation is often the best course. “With mediation you both are in the driver’s seat and decide the very personal terms of your own lives,” says Shwirtz who works for Divorce Harmony. “Also, it cuts the game of ‘telephone’ where you only communicate through your people. By communicating directly with each other you lessen the roadblocks of miscommunication.”
4. …Or Consider a Collaborative Divorce
If both parties involved want a little more protection than what mediation offers, but still wish to be cooperative, they should consider collaborative divorce, adds Goikhman. “In collaborative divorce, the parties are each represented by their own attorneys, but the attorneys promise to work together towards a friendly resolution,” she says. This is often a more united, and less expensive, process.
5. Talk to a Therapist
“My biggest piece of advice for men in the middle of a divorce is to speak with a therapist,” says Jonathan Cohen, a divorce attorney and co-founder of the firm Cohen & Winters. “This may be surprising advice coming from an attorney, but after years of dealing with divorce, I have seen the massive benefit of therapy for both parties.” Divorce is stressful and frustrating. It may have more mental and emotional effects than you can plainly see, so don’t assume you can handle it all on your own. “As attorneys we will take care of all of the legalities and paperwork; your job is to care for your mental health,” adds Cohen. “The better your mental health, the better decisions you will make.” It’s also important to remember that lawyers charge by the hour and if they’re playing the roll of therapist, they’re charging you for that time.
6. Or Consider Jointly Seeing a Couple’s Counsellor
Sure, it may seem strange to see a couple’s therapist when the decision to divorce has already been made. But, according to Laura Goldstein, a marriage and family therapist, this can be extremely helpful in expressing needs even as the relationship works towards dissolution. “It is simply a myth to think that couples counseling is only appropriate when the goal is to repair a relationship,” she says. “It can also be very instrumental when the goal is to dissolve it effectively.”
7. Shift Your Perspective
Divorce is an emotional experience on many levels. As such, it’s very easy to slip into fight mode. It’s important to resist this impulse at all costs. “Couples should approach a divorce not as a boxing arena where each person retreats to their corner before coming out fighting, but as an opportunity to thank each other for the good times and for the love they shared for each other at some point,” says Reverend Ronnie Roll, an ordained interfaith minister, certified conflict resolution specialist, and founder of Hearts Unlimited. All couples must remember, Reverend Roll stresses, that they went into a marriage from a place of love. “When a couple approaches the divorce from a place of love rather than ego or fear,” she says, “they can do what’s best for all involved.”
8. Learn as Much as Possible About the Divorce Process
When people go into divorce blind, and they hear war stories from friends and family, the process can be very scary and overwhelming. This can easily bring an unproductive mindset to the proceedings. “Fear and misconceptions about divorce lead people to be more aggressive, which ratchets up the conflict,” notes Erik Wheeler, a mediator with Accord Mediation. His advice? Read up, talk to only level-headed people who have been in your shoes, and consider the aid of a divorce counsellor.
9. Don’t Go the DIY Route
If you have assets or children Rubenstein strongly advises against going the DIY route. “While a DIY divorce can work in some cases, the likelihood of mistakes increases with complexity,” she says. “Law is complex, and there are strategic realties. Much like chess, the same move played at one point wins the game or played a step too late can lose the game.” She adds that it’s generally more expensive to bring an attorney up to speed, triage the case, and try to clean up the mess, than it would have been to have good representation from the beginning. “A good divorce attorney will hold your hand make you feel safe and not feel threatened,” she says. “People tend to fight because they feel scared. When people feel scared, they suffer more tunnel vision and have less ability to see options.”
10. Take Time to Find the Right Divorce Attorney
During a divorce, your attorney will be your advisor, spokesperson, negotiator, and trusted confidant. Finding the right person is crucial, so take the time to speak to multiple candidates. “If you are committed to making your divorce as pain free as possible, avoid the overly aggressive ‘pit bull’ lawyers,” notes Los Angeles based divorce lawyer Stephen L Cawelti. “These types of lawyers can take your case off the rails, set the wrong tone in negotiations, interfere with your settlement, and drive-up legal fees.” They also, he adds, drag out the divorce process and make it very uncomfortable for everyone involved. Successful settlements, per Cawelti, Successful are built on a rigorous and intelligent cost-benefit analysis. “If you want your divorce to be painless,” he says, “find an attorney that is committed to helping you keep your divorce civil while also protecting your rights and interests.”
11. Love Your Children More Than You Dislike Your Ex
If more divorcing parents could keep this notion in mind, notes Heather M. Garner, a therapist who specializes in sex and relationships, there would be less pain for all the parties involved — including the children. “The reality is, at some point you loved this person you are divorced and the two of you decided to create a life together and parent together,” she says. “As a result, you and your ex, for the rest of your lives, will always be a family. Your family is going to look different and you might add members, but you will always, always be a family.”
12. Get Your Finances Organized
Divorce, per Rubenstein, involves a deep dive into your finances. “It’s almost like an audit, but worse,” she says. To make it easier, she recommends compiling and organizing all of your financial records ASAP. “If you are ready to go with even just your prior year tax returns and most recent financial statements,” she says, “you’ll be ahead of the curve.” Gather all your materials. Check your credit score. Know your debts. Know your assets. Anything and everything will likely come into play.
13. Remember: Sometimes, Less Is More
During a divorce, there’s a real temptation for men in particular to get their ex to agree with them on every point, notes Katherine Eisold Miller, a Divorce Attorney with Miller Law Group.
“That is not going to get you anywhere,” she says. “Keep your communication simple and make it short and to the point. Not nasty but clear.” It’s also important, per Miller, to resist the impulse to be seen as generous. “There may be time for that later, but this is not the time that your soon-to-be ex is going to be grateful — especially if you are the one who wants the divorce,” she says.
14. Try to Focus on Gratitude
Divorce is often painful. But it’s made more so if you are not able to focus consciously on gratitude for your former partner, notes Andrea Hipps, a divorce coach and author of The Best Worst Time of Your Life: Four Practices to Get You Through the Pain of Divorce. “We are all experts at identifying flaws and blame, but the greatest ‘two-address’ families are made when one parent chooses to champion the other parent,” says Hipps. “It’s not natural, but with practice, it becomes the vital and often missing piece that makes rebuilding with grace and generosity a possibility.”
15. Build a Support Network…
All experts agree that it’s crucial to build a support network of friends and family to rely on during the process. Divorce takes an emotional toll on all parties involved and having a trusted group to speak to about what you’re feeling and how you’re coping is important to not only moving on in a healthy way but to ensure that your emotions don’t cause bigger issues during the proceedings.
16. …But Draw Boundaries
It’s important to draw a firm line between your support network and your legal team notes Sam Nabil CEO and Lead Therapist for Naya Clinics. “Moral support must be drawn from loved ones, but legal advice must only be sourced from a divorce attorney or other legal experts,” he says. “There should a clear boundary where respective families can only be involved — and that’s the emotional and psychological welfare of both parties.” Legal matters and actual divorce details, Nabil stresses, should only be discussed with qualified professionals.
17. Commit to Having Mutual Respect For One Another
“If both parties more or less respect each other — even if they don’t trust each other — then even the most complex asset and support case can be worked out in a cost-effective manner,” notes Cawelti. “In order for a divorce to be as painless as possible, each party needs to set aside who’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and focus on the cost-benefit analysis of the agreement.”
Ideally, Cawelti adds, the parties will talk to a mediator and or their own consulting attorneys to make sure they’re covering everything and the terms fair. “These types of situations consider both parties’ needs and wants — and the kids’ — and work out a true compromise,” he says. “When getting a divorce, a good dose of mutual respect and compromise will allow both parties to maintain their privacy and escape their divorce with less drama.”
18. Avoid Revenge Seeking
“If you’re keen to go to court just to get revenge on your ex, it’s time to think again,” notes Dr. Coulston. Of course, she notes, if you had a physically abuse ex-partner or if there were other exceptional circumstances that would lead the court to make a decision in your favor then it’s absolutely fine to litigate. But, she stresses, if you’re just determined to get your day in court so you can have justice for all the things your ex did to wrong you, you’re likely to be throwing money away. “The courts aren’t particularly interested in the details of your ex’s misdeeds in the majority of cases,” she says. “And revenge can be very expensive.”
19. Take the Time to Grieve
Grief is a very real part of the divorce process. You are, after all, grieving the marriage and life you had with a person you loved. “No matter whether you are the initiator or not, divorce is a profound loss and you will feel a range of emotions,” says Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author. “It is healthy and necessary to grieve.” O’Neil suggests seeking a therapist to help you through the process. “It’s only natural that you’ll experience pain and loss when going through a divorce but embracing those feelings can actually help you to cope in the long run,” adds Dr. Coulston. “If you try to ignore those emotions, it’ll only drag out the coping process and come back to haunt you at a later date.” She suggests dealing with your feelings steadily, directly, and consistently and then you’ll discover those difficult emotions become more bearable and will dissipate more quickly.