This past January, my soon-to-be ex-husband informed me on a phone call from the airport that our marriage was over.
Over the sounds of boarding calls, he said he was not coming home from his business trip. The change of address card I’d received in the mail during his time away suddenly made sense.
I was shocked, of course. It took me a couple of days to get my head together as my brain processed the news. And then I got to work. I’d learned a lot about divorce in the time between my first divorce a decade earlier and my second. This time, I was able to act as my own divorce coach. Within days, I had pulled together financial documents and interviewed mediators. I figured out exactly what I wanted in terms of a settlement and figured out a strategy. By the time the pandemic lockdowns came into effect six weeks after that airport call, I was well on my way to freedom.
There are many secrets divorce professionals know that make divorce easier and less expensive. I’ll share the top eight things I’ve learned that helped me:
1. Divorce is just business.
Realizing that divorce is not personal will transform your divorce experience. Once someone uses the D word, emotions no longer matter. It doesn’t matter who did what or why or how. It’s simply a matter of splitting the assets and, if relevant, parenting time. It seems like a hard truth since it still feels personal to you, but if you can compartmentalize your feelings of anger and sadness, and focus on the decisions you need to make, you’ll be so much further ahead.
2. This is your divorce.
It seems obvious, but this is a big one. This is not your attorney’s divorce, your friends’ divorce, your parents’ divorce, or your nosey neighbor’s divorce. You are the one signing the divorce papers. You are the one who lives with your settlement. This divorce needs to suit you and your children, and you have the right to drive the tone and the pace with the assistance of your attorney. During my first divorce, I let my lawyer drive the bus, which was a mistake. Nobody knew my family dynamic better than I did, and it was silly to give away control. Figure out what you want. Figure out what you need. Know how you want the process to play out, and set the rules.
3. Emotional justice is never found in a courtroom.
The courts have their place in high-conflict or complex divorce, but you’ll never get emotional satisfaction from the legal process. No matter how shady your ex’s behavior, judges are in the business of upholding the law, not facilitating revenge. And, sadly, there is no law against being a jerk. Negotiate the best settlement and parenting plan you can, and get your emotional satisfaction from your freedom. Living well is the best revenge, and karma is a gangster, so you can feel free to move on.
4. Just because you had a high-conflict marriage does not mean you have to have a high-conflict divorce.
High-conflict individuals thrive on drama, but that does not mean you have to play their game. Forget the past and focus on your wants and needs. Know your hot buttons so you can get some assistance in managing your reactions. Find an attorney who has experience with charmers, stonewallers, and drama kings or queens. And if you find yourself feeling bullied by your ex in a meeting, ask for a caucus with your lawyer. Find a therapist who understands the dynamic of a toxic ex. The good news is that you are not alone in this relationship anymore and you don’t have to put up with the nonsense
5. The key to a successful divorce is to focus on your goals.
You will have a series of decisions to make when divorcing, so you need to know what you want. How do you wish to split your assets? How do you wish to split parenting time? What do you want to do with the matrimonial home?
You need to be able to tell your attorney exactly what you want, so they can help you formulate a strategy to get it. In my second divorce, I wanted to be totally free of my ex since there were no kids to keep us connected, and I was still pretty upset about the whole airport thing. I wanted capital for my business, so I wanted a lump sum for any monies owed. And I wanted to buy out the house, so valuing it reasonably given the financial risks of the pandemic was really key. Knowing exactly what I wanted made it easier to have my needs met.
6. You can reframe your relationship with your co-parent.
If you share children, you will have a relationship with your ex forever. The good news is, it can be on completely new terms. The fact that your ex was a lousy husband or wife has nothing to do with his or her role as your new co-parent. Even if you have to do loving-kindness meditations until your face turns blue, try to foster a positive or at least neutral relationship with your ex. You are not doing it for them but for yourself and your children.
7. Get smart about your money.
If you have not managed your money in your marriage, it’s time to get control of it in divorce. Most of the decisions you will make focus on money and you need to educate yourself. Talk to your bank about the resources they offer or hire a CDFA® professional. Make sure you understand everything in your settlement agreement before signing on the dotted line. Your future self will thank you when you can retire near a beach.
8. You need to heal.
Perhaps most importantly, you need to heal after your divorce. This is the mistake I made after my first divorce, rushing into a series of relationships when I was not ready. If you date as the walking wounded, you won’t make good decisions. And you leave yourself open to predatory types who can detect vulnerability like a bloodhound.
If you’ve exited a marriage, take some time to be single. Learn who you are and what you want outside of a relationship. Later, when you decide you want a relationship, you know it will be the right one.