Unlike any heartbreaks you had in high school, college and beyond, the pain of going through a divorce is on a whole different scale. Even though statistics on divorce in the United States are daunting — nearly 50% who walk down the aisle will also walk into the courtroom — no one is considering a plot twist when heading into a happy ending.
Not only are you recovering from a great loss of love, but you're combing through the fine-print details that come with a marital break-up: moving out of your shared home, the division of assets, custody conversations if you have children and much, much more. After all, it took years to build up your life together, and it'll take some time to knock it down.
If all signs point to ending things and you're ready to start figuring out the best individual path for yourself, you need to make sure to dot your I's and cross your T's ASAP. With so much to consider — and frankly, so much to protect — you want to make sure you begin proceedings with your best, safest and smartest foot forward.
Here's how to get a divorce and still stay (somewhat) sane:
Step 1: Make Sure You're Really Sure
Every relationship, romantically inclined or not, goes through a series of ebbs and flows, ups and downs, good and bad times. That's why navigating life's unpredictable challenges is part of most wedding vows — it isn't always going to be easy, but if you can come out on the other side and still value and love your partner, it's worth the struggles. That why psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez, Psy.D. LCPC says to double (and triple) check your gut to make sure you're totally ready for the commitment and finality that comes with divorce.
"You should consider if you have truly exhausted all possible options to work out your issues before making this choice. This is so you can make the choice with eyes wide, open, and knowing that you has tried everything within your means to work things out," she explains.
Martinez also suggests digging deep into the reasons you're considering divorce in the first place. Is it because there are obstacles that no matter how hard you try, even with therapy, you can't overcome? Are you both unable to compromise on a big, life-altering decision, like having children or where to settle in and buy a home? Are there trust issues that can't be resolved or repaired? Or are you having a bump in the road that, with time, you could move past and be happy together again? "You should consider your reasons for getting a divorce. Are the issues long-standing and unresolvable, or are they based on a recent disagreement that got you so angry that your thought process jumped to divorce? If this is the case, you should slow down and consider your options," she says.
Before throwing out the scary word of 'divorce' to your partner and knowing you can't take it back, Martinez also says to take a second to understand your motivations behind a breakup. And more importantly, to check whether you're being realistic about what you envision for yourself after everyone has signed on the dotted line. "Are you getting a divorce because you have a fantasy that the grass will be greener in a different relationship or in a single life? Do you have evidence to back this up, or is this wishful thinking? Do not make a permanent decision based on a passing belief that things could be a certain way for you," she says.
Bottom line? You need to be 100% (if not 110%) certain that you want your marriage to end before beginning the process of divorce. Many lawyers won't even take on clients until they feel confident they are ready to let go of their marriage. "First, regardless of any consideration about custody of the children or financial impact, you must decide, 'Is this marriage worth continuing?' I often tell prospective clients, without an answer to that basic question, I cannot help and I shouldn't because as a divorce attorney, my job is to help someone facilitate the process of divorce, not push them into a divorce if they're undecided," lawyer Gabriel Cheong, owner of Infinity Law Group, LLC says.
Step 2: Keep Your Children In Mind
No matter how long you've been together, ending a marriage will be emotionally and financially strenuous. But if you and your spouse have children, everything gets even more complicated. A father's presence in his child's life, son or daughter, impacts their future career aspirations, relationships and happiness, and though figuring out time-management and schedules will be difficult when you no longer live under the same roof, putting in the legwork is super important during this transition.
Cheong says that men need to be even more proactive of their kid's needs and to ensure they have a firm place in their lives moving forward post-divorce.
"We live in a society where mothers still do a majority of the child-rearing as as such, you tend to see family courts side with awarding custody of children to mothers more than fathers. In some cases, you will see judges being partial to mothers over fathers and that is just a reality," he explains. "At the end of the day however, as a father, you cannot expect your children to come to you to be parented and to build that relationship. You also cannot entirely blame their mother — in most cases — of alienating the children. As a father, if you want a solid relationship with your children, you must work harder and be more proactive in reaching out to co-parent and be a father to your children."
One way to do that, according to certified family law specialist Richard Ross, is to make sure you're getting very involved in your children's lives, ASAP. Even more so than you were before you considered divorce. "It's important that you make a good effort to attend as many extra-curricular events, school meetings, doctor appointments, etc. as possible," he says. "Also be sure to know or have on hand important facts about your children, such as doctor's names & contact information, blood type, shoe and clothes sizes, and allergies." This information demonstrates your commitment and will be used to make your case for 50/50 custody, if that is what you're seeking.
Before any paperwork is drawn or you make court cases though, Cheong says to think of your children first and foremost. How? From the second a decision to move forward with the divorce has been made, figure out the best solution for your kids during this time, even if it means getting a rental or a hotel room while you negotiate with your wife. Because while it will be a depressing and difficult time for you, your children will also face a swift, scary jolt in their lives that may leaving them feel scared, upset or angry. That's why you and your ex-wife-to-be must do all that you can to make it less brutal for the sake of your children.
"Once you figure out that you want a divorce and that it's a financially viable solution, then consider what is in the children's best interest. If you and your spouse is fighting all the time in front of the children, perhaps it's better for them to see you fight less and separate," he says. "You also want to consider the co-parenting schedule and plan so that the children know from both parents about the divorce and continue to feel safe and secure knowing that the adults will still be there to take care of them and love them the same."
Step 3: Prepare Yourself For The Stress
There's a reason so many TV shows and movies poke fun at divorces. It's definitely a time when you need a little humor to help you deal with it. Trust us. Even if you and your ex-wife are amicable and friendly toward one another, even while you're signing your divorce papers, the actual process of getting divorced is full of stress, emotions and challenges. Depending on the state you obtained your marriage license and the rules surrounding marital separations, you might have to jump through many hoops just to make everything final. And while you're going through the big ol' mess? Your life doesn't stop. You're still expected to show up to work, take care of your kids if you have them, and on top of that, pay bills, save for retirement and so forth.
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That's why experts say mentally preparing yourself for this jam-packed time in your life is essential. Not only will you be overwhelmed, but you will probably be sad, too.
"Without a doubt there is a significant emotional impact for a man going through a divorce. He may experience deep sorrow, regret and depression, especially if the divorce was not his choice. Some comparisons can even be made to the stages of grief a person goes through during death, only this time it's over the death of a marriage. These feelings could be compounded by the additional stress a divorce brings, especially concerning financial resources and the wellbeing of the children," explains Ross.
Step 4: Try To Resolve What you Can Together
While threatening to call your lawyer is often an effective tactic to end a fight (or ahem, ignite it), as soon as professionals get involved in your affairs, your finances will start to suffer. With many lawyers who bill upon the hour, even simple questions, basic tasks and short phone calls can be super costly.
"The actual cost of divorce can be crippling to each member of a couple. Divorce is not cheap, and divorce lawyers make their money by your divorce becoming complicated and drawn out. It's in their benefit for the two of you to struggle to come to an agreement, and to reinforce turmoil between the two of you. If your goal is to keep things amicable, and keep costs down, try a collaborative divorce, where you both work with attorneys to come to resolutions more easily and more quickly," Martinez explains.
That's why Ross says that figuring out a game plan together can be a better way to approach the start of your divorce. Though it'll wholeheartedly depend on the state of your relationship and the level of communication you can withstand, if you can stomach it, you will both win more in the end. "If possible, meet with your spouse and try to resolve as many issues yourself as you can. Anything you can agree on will make the process smoother, and of course save you attorney fees in the end. Some examples might be what happens with the children — where will they live and what type of custodial schedule might work; are options like mediation or an 'out-of-court divorce' possible; what happens with the family residence — can one party buy the other party out, or should it be put up for sale; and other financial matters," Ross says.
Step 5: Be Mindful Of Your Health
Though you might have settled into a fine routine of working out, eating clean and being active over the past several years, getting a divorce will likely throw a wrench into your schedule. Between swapping the kids and meeting with your lawyers, to looking at homes and putting your own on the market, that hour you used to spend lifting might feel luxurious now. "They could experience physical side effects of sadness, depression, and stress such as a general decline of health, headaches, weight gain, exhaustion," Ross says.
On the other hand, if your divorce was a long-time coming, you might feel a sense of relief once the paperwork is being processed. It might even inspire you to be healthier, since you're out of a bad relationship. "A person who is looking at a divorce as a fresh new start might see positive physical results, especially those attributed to the 'divorce diet' where he might be trying to get in shape, lose weight, or be more presentable for a potential new mate," Ross describes.
Either way your divorce goes, Cheong says to be mindful of the health choices you're making for yourself.
"I've seen the physical impact of divorce affect people generally in two ways. Sometimes once the separation and divorce happens, and the realities of being a single parent take hold, you realize that you're juggling the job of two parents and there's simply no time for healthy cooking and exercise like you use to. That takes a toll on your health and the health of the family," he says. "On the other hand, I've also experienced people who turn their life around and due to a major life change such as a divorce, decide that it's time to improve other aspects of their life including eating healthier and exercising more. I think more so than simply blaming it on the divorce, it's really how people emotionally cope with the divorce that dictates how it will affect them physically."
Step 6: Get Your Financial Affairs In Order
Even if you updated your Facebook status to single, moved out of the family home and overall, have been making progress to move forward, the financial implication of divorce can be more complicated than you realize. Not only do joint banking accounts need to be separated, but there are tax forms to fill out, assets to divvy out, wills to be reworked and much, much more. And the longer you were together? The more tedious the process can be.
"Generally anything acquired or earned between the 'Date of Marriage' and the 'Date of Separation' is considered Community Property and will be split equally between both parties. There is also a possibility that one party will be ordered to pay to support — child, spousal, or both — to the other, and the higher wage earner might also be responsible for paying a portion of the other party's attorney fees," Ross explains. "When you consider the fact that many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, the financial impact can be quite substantial and many times people will be unable to afford two houses, or finance two households and sacrifices will need to be made."
To make matters as seamless as they can be, Ross suggests getting all of your documents secured, updated and together as soon as possible. "Secure financial documents like your bank statements, tax returns, financial reports, and make sure to have copies of everything. Keep originals in a safe place, preferably not in the family residence or in the trunk of your car which can easily be accessed," he says.
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And though often essential for divorce proceedings, lawyers can be pricey, especially if negotiations go on for a long time between you and your spouse. Ross notes that in some instances, figuring out ways to 'DIY' your divorce can be cost-effective and help you both save money in the long run.
"Consider whether you can afford to hire an attorney, and if not, find other resources that will help you through this process such as self-help clinics, books, or even YouTube videos. In my experience however, many cases that involve financial assets such as one or more homes or properties, retirement accounts and businesses can exponentially complicate the divorce process and could cost a person more in the long run," he says. "My suggestion is always for someone starting the process to research attorneys in their area and find someone who is highly reviewed, knowledgeable on the law, and compatible with you personally. If you have financial limitations, some attorneys may offer limited scope options such as document review or representation in court, so it's important to look for and consider those options as well."
Step 7: Take Notes And Get Started
And by notes, we mean pictures. And by pictures, we mean all of them. Just like with any legal case, you need as much proof and evidence as possible to make sure you protect yourself and your future. Though you want to avoid getting into a he said/she said battle, in case it gets to that point, you want to be as prepared as you can be, and armed with the documents to prove your case.
"Take pictures of the entire family residence and its contents to establish what was there at the time of separation and secure any valuables, removing them from the residence if necessary. Take any measures needed to make sure that the other party can't retaliate against you by destroying or selling anything that could be considered community or even your sole property," Ross suggests.
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Ross also suggests figuring out the family home as soon as possible. "Sever joint tenancy on family residence as soon as possible. This is important as without this, should one spouse die prior to the divorce being finalized, the other spouse would automatically be awarded the family residence. Joint tenancy can be severed by preparing and recording a document with the county recorder and is imperative in the early stages of a divorce," he says.
And last — but definitely not least? Make sure you find a lawyer that you're comfortable with. Since you will be spending so much time and depending so much of your emotional and financial future on the shoulders of this professional, it's vital that you like and trust them tenfold. "Don't be afraid to Interview attorneys," Martinez says. "You want to find the one that you're comfortable with, and that is in line with the way you would like to handle the divorce."