No one wants a “War of the Roses” type of divorce, but unfortunately, they can and do happen. These divorces can costs tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees. What’s worse is when divorces erupt into major battles that leave both parties—and their families—scarred for years.
In almost 30 years of divorce practice, I have noticed some common themes in divorces that get “ugly”. But the dissolution of a marriage, although painful by nature, doesn’t have to become a war zone. These seven rules can help you leave your marriage with your heart and head intact.
1. Tell your spouse you want a divorce in person. Don’t just leave a note.
Have the decency and the guts to tell your spouse face-to-face that you are not happy. Leaving your spouse is not something you put in a text, email or video (true story!). Sit down in a public place and explain how you are feeling.
Remember: a letter, email, text or video is the coward’s way out and starts the divorce proceedings off on a hurtful note. Think back to the seventh grade when you broke up with your steady. Didn’t it work better when you talked it out in person and worked through it?
2. Learn about the stages of grieving – anger, denial, grief and acceptance.
Work through these stages without your spouse, but preferably with the help of a marriage counselor. You can go with your spouse to a counselor and learn to co-parent and get some guidance on splitting amicably.
3. Keep your children out of the conflict.
When children are brought into court to speak to a judge about which parent he or she wishes to live with, the effect ripples down over the years. Instead, figure out a custody plan with an evaluator or therapist that will work for your family, and have both parents tell the kids together.
4. Consider mediation or collaborative law.
Divorce does not have to involve a protracted trial. See : or Cite. You can settle a divorce case without going to court. That’s why it is important to choose a lawyer who can represent you accordingly. Ask any prospective lawyers if they are a trained mediator, are trained in collaborative law or if they use mediation frequently in settlements.
5. Give the process some time.
Don’t expect to reach your settlement in a few days or a few weeks. If you’ve been married for years, a few months may not even be a practical length of time for a settlement. The issues of custody, child support, spousal support and division of property are important and it may take time to reach the right outcome.
6. Respect your relationship with your spouse, even as it is ending. Don’t involve a third party.
Some of the hardest divorce cases that I’ve had to settle are those in which one of the parties has been or is currently involved in a sexual/love relationship with a third party. There is some truth to the phrase “there is no fury like a woman (or man) scorned.”
Before and even after you officially separate from your spouse, even with an agreement or court order, discretion is the better part of valor when dating. And if you need some incentive, check out North Carolina’s law on alienation of affection and criminal conversation which allows for one party to bring legal action against a third party who is accused to be responsible for the failure of the marriage.
7. Don’t sweat the “stuff.”
My final advice for an amicable divorce is not to sweat who gets the “stuff.” There is a theory called transference, in which someone transfers feelings from one person or thing to another. In a divorce case, it’s not uncommon to see a husband and wife put undue significance on their belongings, i.e. the china, furniture, CDs—and on who ends up with them. Remember that in a divorce action, your “stuff” is only worth what you can sell it for at a tag sale. Although it is expensive to replace items, in a divorce, it’s more expensive to hire an attorney to fight about it. Use a mediator for the “things” and best of all, make a list and see if you can agree from the start.