Do’s and Don’ts for Divorce

So, your “I do” turned out to be a big “don’t,” and now the honeymoon is over. Before you quit, there are still some definite do’s and don’ts you’ll should follow if you want to end this (legally binding) relationship.  Remember, you survived the marriage, now it’s time to make it through the divorce.  Take a few deep breaths and keep the following list handy

The Do’s of Divorce

1. Hire an experienced divorce attorney.

There is a reason this is number one on the list: it is the most important. The right lawyer will advocate for you and your kids in the courtroom, and make sure any and all legal filings are done properly and on time. When you try to represent yourself (appear “pro se,” meaning “on one’s own behalf”), you cripple yourself. This is especially true if your spouse has hired a lawyer. Being familiar with the process and the workings of the court is an enormous, almost unbeatable advantage. A good lawyer will make the whole process easier for everyone involved—including the judge, who will inevitably become frustrated as pro se litigants slow proceedings down by trying, no matter how hard, to do a job they just aren’t trained to do. (Do you really want your judge frustrated with you from the very beginning? Trust me, you don’t.)

Even other attorneys hire divorce lawyers. This is because divorce is almost always emotional, especially when children are involved. Having someone less personally involved handling the heavy lifting is key. A lawyer can serve as a buffer between you and your soon-to-be ex; can be “the organized one,” at a time when sense often takes a back seat to sentiment; and finally, an attorney can bring reassurance to intimidating surroundings, just by being there.

2. Live your life!

Too many people let divorce consume them completely. That way lies madness (or at least an inflated liquor store bill). It is important to stay in touch with your friends: make time to play a game or two with your tennis pals, your poker or mahjong buddies, your colleagues or anyone else that you spend time with when DIVORCE isn’t part of the picture. It is really easy to get sucked into a place where the D-word is all you can see. This is when you need your friends and family more than ever. It may be tempting (and oh, so much easier) to hide out at home and isolate yourself from the world, but that path often carries people to depression, overeating, alcoholism, unattractive sweatpants and other unhealthy or even destructive behaviors. It is totally understandable and permissible to feel sorry for yourself; you aren’t made of stone. Just give your grieving a time limit. Spend an evening with Ben and Jerry. Then pick yourself up and call the friends who actually love you back; they are out there and probably more than eager to help you celebrate what is actually just the somewhat-bumpy beginning of a wonderful new life.

3. Realize that divorce happens to the best of us.

In fact, these days it seems to happen to most of us. Divorces happen for so many reasons they are almost uncountable. Sometimes you see it coming a long way off and sometimes it hits you like a freight train out of nowhere, plowing through your life and leaving you shell-shocked. However it happened, remember, though the marriage might have been flawed, you aren’t. Getting a divorce does not make you a failure. In fact, recognizing that a relationship is not healthy or good for you (or your children) and making the call to end it, is the sign of a strong, empowered self-actualized human being. The same praise should be applied to the man or woman strong enough to stand tall and rebuild after being sucker-punched by a spouse who announces, seemingly out of the blue, that the marriage is over. Divorce doesn’t mean you’ve failed your children either; growing up with a mom and dad who are together but fighting, or not talking at all, isn’t better than having a relationship with two happy parents separately.

Divorce doesn’t make you an unlovable person or a bad person. Nor does it mean you are hard to live with. While these things are probably true of your ex, your divorce does NOT mean that there is anything at all wrong with YOU.

4. Keep spending to a minimum.

This one comes as a surprise to many—and that is exactly why it is so important. Divorce is something most people have never budgeted for. However your new lifestyle means new expenses. You’ll use extra gas for trips for visitation and appointments with lawyers. You’ll also need to miss some work for court hearings and other divorce/custody-related meetings. So, it’s time to cut back on the extras and to start saving any extra money for unexpected divorce expenses. This needn’t be permanent. Track the spending for a year or so and, if things are pretty stable, once you know what these new costs amount to, you can budget for the extras accordingly.

5. Keep your appointments.

Divorce has the eerie power to bring out the absolute worst in most human beings. But fight it! This is a very bad time to act like anything other than the mature adult that you are (no matter how childish your once-beloved is acting). You may find yourself angry and tempted to make a statement by skipping a meeting with your spouse’s lawyer, or showing up late for a court hearing (because your spouse made you wait last time). Let your spouse’s behavior speak for your spouse, and let your behavior speak for you. If one of you is often late and skips appointments, and the other is consistently present and on time, you can guess who will look more capable, organized and mature—who, in other words, will look like the better parent.

Getting petty, spiteful or passive aggressive on the court’s time is never a good idea under any circumstances. It will just make you look like you don’t care or, worse, are trying to cause trouble. Regardless of whom you are trying to injure with a disrespectful attitude, only you and your case will end up suffering.

The Don’ts of Divorce

1. Don’t take matters into your own hands.

The most important item on the “Do” list was to get a good divorce attorney. Don’t make that a waste of money: let the lawyer you hired do his or her job. Take advantage of the barrier divorce attorneys create between you and your spouse (especially if things are getting heated). If your divorce has become a battle, trying to continue the fight on your own, out of court, will just get you in trouble. It may seem obvious, but some big don’ts in this category include: making threats, calling and hanging up, stalking your spouse, keying your spouse’s car, and stalking, or in any way harassing, your spouse’s new love interest.

2. Don’t go against court rulings.

When it comes to family arrangements during and after a divorce, court rulings should be seen as special, personalized laws custom made for you and your ex, and you must obey them as such. If you don’t, you’ll be treated like any other lawbreaker, facing penalties that include fines and even imprisonment. While court rulings vary from case to case, they often forbid things like taking your kids without your spouse’s permission, taking the children over state lines, leaving the country with your children, refusing to pay alimony or child support and refusing your spouse visitation rights.

3. Don’t expose your kids to your animosity.

Most parents truly do have their children’s best interests at heart. That is why it is surprising how many forget about this rule, and about how harmful breaking it can be to their little ones. No matter how you and your ex-spouse feel about one another, your children love you both very much. Trying to get them to choose a side by criticizing one another, fighting or complaining about what is going on in court, all in front of the kids, is very hard on them emotionally. They love you both and want to please you both; being put in the middle can cause feelings of severe guilt and anxiety. In the worst cases, this behavior can have a long-term impact on a child’s mental health. More commonly it could end up having a negative impact on their relationship with you. You want the best for your kids. If you and your spouse can agree on only one thing, make it that one. If that just isn’t possible, take the higher road; just because your spouse is ignoring this rule doesn’t mean you have to fire back. Be a positive single-parent role model for your children.

4. Don’t confide in your kids.

By the same token, don’t make your children your best friends and confidants when you want to unload. If you need a shoulder to cry on, call on a good friend or family member. You are human (as previously mentioned) so let yourself cry, just don’t do it when the kids are watching. Don’t share your money problems with your children, or visibly worry and complain when a child support check doesn’t show up on time. These problems are overwhelming to you, an adult; imagine how huge they must seem to a twelve year old, an eight year old or even a six year old. Frankly, just seeing a parent cry, is probably going to terrify small children. Be very sure you aren’t accidentally crushing their small shoulders with your adult burdens. Provide them with all the stability and security you can offer.

If you are having trouble with this concept, I recommend a literary classic called Jude, the Obscure. Look it up; it’s by Thomas Hardy. For those with shorter attention spans, “The Rocking Horse Winner” is a short story by D.H. Lawrence dealing with a similar theme.

5. Don’t try to be a hero.

Okay, we’ve told you to be strong for the kids. That doesn’t mean you have to be superhuman. You aren’t. No one is. Divorce is hard and you are likely going to have some difficult times. That doesn’t make you weak. And you don’t need to get through it alone. Sharing your feelings of pain, guilt and loss can be an important step toward emotional health and recovery. Close friends or family members will usually be willing to lend some company, an ear and some much-needed encouragement. If you want to talk to people who understand what you are going through, a support group or marriage family therapist is a good option.  There are groups made up of people who are recently divorced or currently going through divorces. Whatever you do, don’t tell yourself it’s a weakness to have feelings. And don’t allow pride to shut out the people who truly want to help.

6. Don’t rush into another relationship.

This is a trap that a lot of recently divorced men and women fall into for many reasons. You’ve just been through a complicated, confusing and painful ordeal, and now you are single, possibly for the first time in a very long while. When you turn on the t.v. or read a book, or even listen to people talk, you are bombarded by messages telling you that if you aren’t part of a couple, you are somehow not complete. It is really easy to start thinking that filling the empty side of the bed, sofa or car as quickly as possible is the only real answer. But you need to heal from your last emotional war before venturing back onto the battlefield. Being alone is not the worst thing in the world. Haven’t you just proven that? Your divorce supports the fact that it is much worse to be with the wrong person. So slow down and focus on getting back to your best. It can be beneficial and even empowering to go solo for a while, even with the challenges of a single parent. Meanwhile, single does not equal lonely. Spend lots of quality time with family members and close friends doing the things you like to do.

7. Don’t forget to be a parent.

Many parents feel guilty when going through a divorce—like they are somehow failing their children. This feeling (which we’ve already addressed as totally false) can lead to a bit of overindulgence. In an effort to make up for what you feel like you are taking away from them, you might be inclined to ease up on the discipline. It’s not a good idea. Kids are clever. If there is a way to play mom against dad or use guilt for gain, even the best of the little cherubs will use those tools to get what they want. Kids are really good at being kids and they’ve spent an entire lifetime watching you. They know when mom isn’t paying attention, or when dad is too tired to enforce the rules. Sure, you want to make the divorce as easy on your children as possible, but in reality, it is consistency, not utter anarchy, that will make them feel the most at ease and the least confused. Keep on raising them with the same household rules they’ve grown up with. Anything else, while fun for a while, is just going to indicate to them that something is wrong (and make your job as a parent a lot more difficult!).