The Best Advice my Divorce Lawyer Gave Me.

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“Don’t fight. It’s not worth it.”

I looked around, sure that I accidentally wandered into a therapist’s office.

“Martha, do you see these boxes here?” Don, my divorce lawyer, pointed to the pyramid of cardboard that reached the ceiling. “It’s a divorce case I’ve been working on for two years—two years! Do you know how much money they’ve wasted on this? $75,000! It’s the biggest mess I’ve ever seen. Don’t do that. Whatever you do, don’t fight. People deserve better.”

I couldn’t believe what was coming out of his mouth. Advice from well-meaning friends and co-workers said to beware divorce attorneys, especially the “Gladiators,” who encouraged clients to fight. The longer the couple spent arguing over assets and custody, the richer the lawyers would become.

Perhaps Don was just venting his frustration. Or maybe he slept through that Gladiator Divorce Attorney course in law school. Whatever the reason, I am grateful for his advice. Not fighting during the divorce, in spite the rollercoaster of emotions, is beneficial for multiple reasons. It saves money, expedites healing, and can empower us during a time when we feel helpless.

Not Fighting Saves Money

Divorcing couples who spend hours in their lawyer’s offices refusing to cooperate may think they are getting the upper hand, but at what cost? To be clear, sticking up for yourself is a separate issue: if the spouse steals money from a joint account, tries to abduct the children, or wracks up thousands of dollars of credit card debt under our name, then yes—we must absolutely stand our ground and assert our rights.

But what about the negotiables, like where the children spend Thanksgiving, or who keeps the furniture? Often in divorce, we want to “win,” and we’re prepared to fight for everything. This approach costs money. A lot of money. It requires that constant back and forth between our lawyer, the spouse’s lawyer, and the spouse. Depending on where you live, a divorce lawyer can cost anywhere between $100 to $500 an hour. And those hours add up.

Although statistics differ, the average divorce can cost $15,000 to $30,000. Who has that kind of money? Most people do not, and couples who continue to fight pay by putting it onto their credit card, raiding the emergency savings, or dipping into their retirement account. Is sacrificing our future worth “winning” a divorce?

“Work out your differences and try to do this yourself,” Don told me. That advice went a long way. Despite our heated emails and stressful, angry phone calls, my spouse and I were able to reach an agreement on most things. And our total lawyer fees? Under $2,000. I am sure there would have been an extra 0 in that number had I not taken Don’s advice.

It is not to say that during divorce, we should not use the resources available to us if we need them—there are many wonderful divorce lawyers and mediators, and collaborative divorce that can help us navigate the legal process when we are confused and overwhelmed. And depending on the nature of the split, we may want to utilize their expertise so that we can separate ourselves from any direct confrontation with our spouses. But to avoid heated confrontations and additional drama by diffusing conflict when we can, we can better manage our legal costs and start healing faster.

Not Fighting Expedites Healing

It took years to understand what Don meant when he said people deserved better.

The sooner both sides agree on splitting assets, debt and custody, then the sooner the separation agreement and co-parenting arrangements are finalized. When this happens, the sooner the divorce papers signed and filed, and the sooner the divorce is granted. That means you are able to move on with the next chapter in your life.

With nasty divorces, this is easier said than done, but think about it—one of the reasons we fight is because we are hurting. We are scared and confused and angry. And the only way we know how to deal with those emotions is by projecting that pain onto our business decisions during the divorce. We grasp for anything we can to substitute for the life that we had assumed would never change.

We fight because we think we will “win,” the divorce, and “get back at” our spouse. This tit-for-tat can go on for months and years, which only prolongs the stress and ensures a future of bitterness.

But what if we avoided or decreased the fighting? What if taking the high road, despite the drama, would help us accept the end of a toxic marriage so that we could learn how to forgive, heal, move on, and focus on the opportunities ahead?

Accomplishing the positive feats are nearly impossible if we’re still fighting over every perceived wrong. And don’t think the children aren’t noticing the fighting. They pick up on the sorrow, the anger, the negative words their parents say about each other. They will already be stressed enough with this life transition. Not fighting will ease the burden on them, which can help them adjust and heal faster, too.

Despite wanting to argue sometimes about every little thing, especially at the beginning of the split, decreasing the fighting gave me a clearer, more logical mind that allowed me to feel better sooner. But this doesn’t come easy. One of the hardest things at the beginning was to try to not make any business-related decisions at the beginning, because the raw emotion at the beginning would have affected their outcome. Looking back, I see some of the earliest, nastiest fights—deciding how to split the savings and who got the dogs on the weekend—would have been avoided if we had given ourselves the time—even a few weeks or months—to not worry about the things that weren’t urgent.

Not Fighting Empowers Us

Divorce is gut-wrenching because it demonstrates how little we control. When the intangible items we cling to—our identity, financial security and self-esteem are jeopardized, we feel helpless. We are desperate to replace them with tangible items that we think we have a shot at controlling, namely, the division of assets. And so we put demands on those and fight for those, thinking that having the last say will help us regain the confidence and control we lost, because we have no idea what else to do.

But is is the ability to compromise and resist demonizing the spouse that empowers, not the ability to make them “lose.” One of the most important things a friend reminded me early in the divorce, when I was voicing how upset and angry, dealt with “recognize, Martha, that this was a person you loved for a long time. Remember your ability to be kind to that memory before you bicker again.”

Those words were the tough love I needed to rise above the fear that had made itself visible when I was arguing about who should pay what credit card debt. Remembering the mutual respect that could still exist between two divorcing people gave me the motivation to work through some of the tough decisions that can test people’s patience at an already emotional time.

Our rising above the drama, taking care of ourselves, and staying focused on business decisions will move us forward. Avoiding drama is one of the most empowering acts you can do. It demonstrates that we are the one who controls our fate. What is more empowering than that?

The road of rising above is not always easy. There were many times I wanted to ignore my lawyer and have the last word on everything. It was a struggle, but in retrospect, that advice was invaluable. The money I saved on attorney fees was put towards a future that I determined, and I was able to move on faster, regain my confidence, and regain the independence that had gone missing. It is my hope that others can do the same.



Divorce Doesn’t Need to be a Four Letter Word.

It starts with Maitri:

When we feel bad, we tend to do things that make us feel worse:

Author: Martha Bodyfelt

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Kevin Dooley/Flickr

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anonymous Mar 31, 2016 12:33pm

Thanks for video, shared it on my fb page

anonymous Mar 29, 2016 3:14pm

This is good advice. In the heat of the moment, we can make some really bad decisions. There's a big difference between fighting for something because it is necessary and fighting for something out of spite. Emotions like anger are strong in the moment, but they tend to fade over time – the results of a costly court battle, unfortunately, do not. Hard is it may be to distance yourself from the situation and recognize the advice of a lawyer, they are a neutral third party and have a more objective view of everything than you.

anonymous Mar 21, 2016 10:41am

Yeah, I see the point but be careful. My ex and I basically wrote our own divorce in order to save money. We parted friendly after 20 years. I thought we were still friends, especially for our kids sake. Well a few years after the divorce he took our agreement to another attorney and found a loophole. He then walked away from a large mortgage on the home we had owned together. He had let it go to hell and took off. Our agreement was he was to sell it by a certain date and give me portion. Guess who got stuck with it? Turned out ok but it was a nightmare.
It would have been better if I had been a little mean, had a tougher lawyer during the proceedings instead of losing money later.

anonymous Feb 13, 2016 2:06pm

Family law is extremely confusing and complicated and a good lawyer will be able to tell you what you can an cannot do.For more details-san diego child custody lawyer

anonymous Dec 19, 2015 7:52am

I didn't fight but I did stand my ground and defend myself, while my ex husband never agreed to one thing. Even against his own lawyer's advice, he singlehandedly strung things out over two and a half years and cost himself more than $50,000. He was a person who seemed to think that he wouldn't "win" unless I lost everything. I will say he was a fighter, but that was cash we could have split.

anonymous Dec 18, 2015 11:07am

This would be great if parents would stay in the same school district, but in a large number of cases one parent wants to take the children and move to a different area. In my opinion custody laws need to require both parents’ approval to relocate children outside of the hometown area and each parent to have the children 50% of the time. There are always those cases of abuse but otherwise there is no reason not to share the children 50/50. If the ex was good enough to create children with they should be good enough to stay in close proximity to in order to obtain this. If the custody laws required this nationwide there would be no room to fight over it.

anonymous Nov 29, 2015 9:06am

A car accident lawyer is a specialist lawyer who knows better than anyone about the laws of automobile accidents; therefore, they can guide the sufferers properly to get their desired recompense.

anonymous Oct 22, 2015 10:57pm

The article justifies everything. Also it gives a chance to rethink what exactly you are doing. Fighting with every penny may make your future like more miserable.

anonymous Aug 12, 2015 7:47am

My soon to be ex and I hired a joint lawyer for one hour to make sure we filled out the paper work correctly. Other than that we have been (mostly) thoughtful and amicable with one another. I feel blessed that we both have REFUSED to allow the ending of our marriage to effect our child. She still sees both of us every day when possible and is luckily young enough that she will never have memories of us together. I thought about staying for her, but realized she will benefit much more from a happy and healthy single mommy than she would from me staying in limbo. I was willing to walk away with nothing, although I didn't have to. Material "stuff" and money do not make me happy. I would be very concerned if I was attached to a couch or car enough to pay thousands of dollars to keep it. Our EGO'S like to tell us we are on top of the heap or on the very bottom. Some divorce lawyers thrive off of this fact and play the card that "we deserve" this or that. Today I strive to just be another worker, friend, daughter, mom. Happiness is an inside job!

anonymous Aug 10, 2015 5:05pm

There’s certainly a great deal to know about this topic.
I like all the points you have made.

anonymous Aug 8, 2015 6:38pm

Hello everybody! Original author here. Thanks for your insight! It can be extremely difficult to not fight if the other partner is determined to drag the divorce on to be vindictive and vengeful. I am publishing an article soon about what that means to us, when we're trying to move on with our lives, and how we can't control what the spouse does, only how we react to it.

Christie, you make a great point about shielding the children as much as we can. It's so sad when the parents choose to project their own pain and anger of divorcing the spouse onto the children, who then carry that burden. 🙁

anonymous Aug 8, 2015 10:57am

Not fighting is what's best for the kids. We never qualified our divorce to our then-7y.o., just told him I was moving to a new place and he'd get to decorate his room. We figured out an equitable joint parenting schedule before I even moved out of the family house so our son could become accustomed to the schedule, then figured out the money after I moved out. We never fought in front of our son.

When parents disparage each other in front of their children they are disparaging half of their child. It can be confusing and emotionally devastating to children to feel unsafe with a parent because of things the other says or feel they have to pick sides. It can be emotionally devastating to a parent who becomes estranged from their own children because the other spouse poisoned them against him/her. Our children need to know that they will be safe and loved no matter what.

anonymous Aug 7, 2015 9:12am

EXCELLENT ARTICLE!! I am a former divorce attorney and cannot agree with your comments more. Thanks for sharing!!

anonymous Aug 7, 2015 5:46am

Excellent article. I have three women friends who spend years and tens of thousands of dollars to extricate themselves from difficult situations. All of them wanted to “get back” at their (now) ex-spouses for the pain and disappointment they suffered during (in two cases) decades of marital non-bliss. What they each wound up with was even more headaches, heartaches, and stress. If it’s at all possible, I would highly recommend this article’s approach to dissolving a marriage. Of course, if you are tied to someone who insists on getting an attorney to fight for every last penny, then all bets are off.

Lynn Huxtable May 17, 2018 2:28pm

Thank you for this wonderful article. I am currently going through a divorce. My ex was the one to say “let’s do this in a civil way,” and we’ve been able to stick to that. What that did for me was to enable me to fully feel my grief over the death of our relationship. And though extremely painful, that really has been healing. I’m grateful we did it this way. I feel for those whose exes have to “scorch the earth” through this process. Your peace will come... it’s just delayed.

West Short Jun 27, 2017 6:39pm

Like James, my ex decided on a scorched earth, General Sherman, burn it all down policy. There was no level of concession that was going to be "enough" to satisfy the victim story she was telling herself and the extreme anger that resulted and continues to this day. As a litigation attorney, I closely study how disputes get started, how to end them, and know from experience that "fighting" is the most expensive and least efficient method of resolving any dispute. Unfortunately, however, it takes two to end a dispute. So, when the goal of one party to a dispute is the dispute itself, there is quite literally nothing the other party can do to bring it to an end.

James Mentzer Apr 17, 2016 4:57am

As wonderful and ideal your lawyer's advice and the eventual outcome of your divorce was, you missed one very important reality. It only takes one person to decide to divorce and also one person to make it a battle, fight or struggle. I took every punch, kept my mouth shut to my ex and kept things private to even my friends. My ex took the scorched earth, I will win and hurt you in every way possible. I am still dealing with unrelenting anger even after 3 years of separation and 16 months after the final divorce. My attorney didn't initiate any fights and encouraged me to make the process easier by taking the high road and being transparent in communicating with my ex. My ex, alternatively, directed her attorney to do the opposite and she pulled out all of the stops. It was a bully picking on a pacifist. I asked a child psychologist what one calls a situation in which only one side is "fighting." Her answer was simple. "Abuse."

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Martha Bodyfelt

Martha Bodyfelt is a divorce and recovery coach whose website, Surviving Your Split, helps readers get their confidence back after divorce so they can quit feeling invisible and move on with their lives. For your free gift, download the Divorce Goddess Recovery Guide here or email her.