Roughly half of all marriages end in divorce. If divorce seems like a real possibility for your marriage, for whatever reason, do some research and ready yourself by learning what to expect. Find an attorney who is experienced and is a “good fit” for you. In the meantime, here are ten quick tips about divorce in no specific order.
- Don’t focus on who is at fault. If the marriage is over, fault doesn’t matter. Any marriage can be ended on the basis of “irreconcilable differences”. You do not have to prove adultery or other offenses. The time by which you can finalize the divorce can be shortened by agreement, but it can be shortened even more if there is adultery, “mental cruelty” and other allegations. If you have things to fight over, however, it will not matter how long or short that waiting period is.
- Agreeing is better than fighting. If the marriage is over, there is no sense fighting any further. You can ease the pain, shorten the process, control the costs and avoid the “war of the roses” by being agreeable. Find your common ground; know what is most important to you; and be willing to compromise on the other things. Even if you go through a knock-down-drag-out fight, chances are you will not be happy with the end result that you ultimately do not control, and it will break your bank. You might as well be frugal and smart, save money and time and aim for a compromise you can live with that you had some control over.
- Start counting the cost. While you are hoping the grass will be greener “on the other side,” it will definitely not be cheaper. Two cannot live cheaper separate and independent of each other, generally, than they can while living together. Two homes or apartments and two households will consume more of your combined efforts. Do a budget. Be realistic. Even if you are counting on support, it will require you to tighten your belt at first.
- Children do not get divorced. The law assumes that the maximum involvement of both parents is the ideal. As much as you do not like him or her, you cannot divorce your children from him or her. In fact, your ability and willingness to allow the other parent generous time with your children is a factor courts will consider in deciding who gets custody, if custody is an issue. If you are unwilling and inflexible to allow your children’s other parent reasonable time with the kids, you might find yourself being the visiting parent.
- It is not over until it is over. There is a mandatory waiting period. Depending on the facts and circumstances, it could be longer or shorter. Regardless of the waiting period, courts do not move with lighting speed. About the fastest divorce you might conceive of will take 6-8 weeks, and that is with complete cooperation and agreement between spouses, a diligent, responsive attorney, no children, few assets and little debt. More typically you can expect months, and if there is no willingness to agree to anything, you can make that years.
- Don’t have a fool for a lawyer. You know the saying. Sure, you can represent yourself, but you don’t know what you don’t know. Judges cringe when they see a pro se person (acting as one’s own attorney) approach the bench. They will be accommodating; they will allow you to fumble your way along; they will give plenty of rope to hang yourself. In the end, the same rules apply whether you have an attorney or not, so bite the bullet.
- Did I already say that you should count the cost? I am told that the average wedding costs about $22,000, and the average contested divorce can costs about the same. I have not tried to verify these figures, but they sound about right. If the contested divorce goes all the way to a trial, that figure goes way up! A divorce with child custody litigation can is the most expensive of all, and those costs have been known to run up into six figures in extreme cases.
- Did I mention being frugal and smart? In some circumstances (longer marriages, with children, and other issues), you might try mediation, involving a neutral third person (the mediator) who works with the couple to help them decide custody, support, and division of property. If you successfully work through the issues and reach an agreement, an attorney can write it up; it is reviewed and approved by the other spouse’s attorney; it is signed and presented to the court; and you are done. You might be looking at costs around $5000 or slightly more in more complex situations. It is still not cheap, but better than the alternative.
- Did I emphasize being frugal and smart? In other situations (shorter marriages, no kids and few issues), you could pursue a “collaborative” or agreed divorce. One of you needs an attorney (though you both should have one), and you begin the process by coming to an agreement on all the issues, having it written up and presented to the court. It is similar to the mediation process, but you cut out the middle man. If you run into snags, you can always have a knock-down-drag-out fight if you prefer. If you would rather agree and move on, you might get the whole thing done and start over for as little as $2000 to $3000 (in extreme cases where everything goes perfectly smoothly and there are no issues).
- Spouses no more, but parents forever. Your marriage may be ending, but you will always be parents of your children. You may be so mad you are seeing red now, but you will still be dealing with him or her 10, 20, 50 years from now as parents. Your kids will suffer less if you don’t fight over them. When you talk negatively about the SOB or B…., you are talking about your children’s father or mother. You (two) are the only natural parents your children will have. If you have to vent to someone, vent to your best friends. Protect your children.
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