I am often asked by clients if there is some critical question that they are not asking or something else they should be doing to help their divorce process. The truth is that it is more likely that there are things that they are doing that they should not be doing. The legal end of your divorce is handled (primarily) by your attorney; how you comport yourself personally, professionally and as a parent during your divorce is up to you but can have a profound effect on the legal process, the end result and –particularly if you have children–the rest of your life.
The following are some tips on what not to do during your divorce process. They are by no means exhaustive.
1. Don’t be a spectator in your own divorce. Many clients are tempted to allow their attorneys to do all of the work in their case. While most attorneys are happy to do so, being a passive participant in your own divorce case can increase legal fees substantially. In addition to saving money, actively seeking information from your attorney, taking steps to understand the process, gathering appropriate documents and working with your attorney so that he or she understands what you truly need and want will alleviate the sense of helplessness that often comes with the end of a marriage. I encourage my clients to think of their divorce as both an end and a new beginning. Taking an active role in shaping your future will help ensure that you are moving forward on the right path.
2. Don’t go it alone. Divorce usually brings about enormous changes in virtually every aspect of your life. Don’t be afraid of those changes, but don’t think that you can handle them all by yourself either. Virtually everyone going through the divorce process would benefit from counseling, even if only for a few sessions. Spouses who will be forced to enter the work force after a significant period of being a stay-at-home parent should seek vocational counseling and consider the possibility of further education. Spouses who have not been involved in managing the marital finances should seek to establish relationships with a trustworthy financial advisor, realtor, insurance broker and banker. Begin to surround yourself with the people you will need to start your new life.
3. Don’t involve your kids. Children deserve to be children. They do not need to know the details of your divorce; they do not need to know why you and your spouse are divorcing. They do need to know that it is not their fault, that you love them and, while things may be different, that they will be okay. Avoid parentalizing your kids by using them as an ally or a confidant. Do not speak poorly of the other parent or allow others to do so in the presence of your children.
4. Don’t withhold information from your attorney. This has been covered in previous posts but it bears repeating. Your attorney cannot help you unless you are truthful with him/her and forthcoming with regard to information relevant to your case. Your attorney should not find out about some embarrassing or bad fact when it is too late to avoid the damage , i.e., at trial. By knowing the weaknesses in your case from the start, your attorney can plan and strategize so as to minimize the damage.
5. Don’t alienate your ex. If it is at all possible, try to keep an open line of communication with your ex, even if that line of communication is email or text messaging. As discussed in prior posts, keep your communications civil and on topic. Avoid rehashing old arguments or placing blame — if you couldn’t resolve those issues when you were married, you certainly won’t resolve them now. If you have children, the ability to communicate with your ex is a critical part of coparenting after divorce. While it is difficult, the emotional dividends for your children are enormous. Bear in mind, however, that keeping an open dialogue with your ex does not mean putting up with abusive behavior or discussing case strategy. Don’t let your ex undermine your relationship with your attorney — and he or she will likely try. And, it should go without saying, don’t reach any agreements with your ex without discussing those agreements with your attorney.
6. Don’t assume that your attorney has to be unpleasant to be effective. Some people feel that to be a “fighter,” an attorney must (1) be uncooperative with opposing counsel in such matters as disclosing information, disclosing documents, and arranging for convenient dates for meetings, depositions, etc; and (2) never consider or advise compromise or negotiation with opposing counsel. This notion is sadly misguided; the time to “fight” may be in tough negotiations in court. Being uncooperative with opposing counsel greatly increases attorney’s fees with all legal steps done the hard way such as preparation of special documents, appearances in court, etc. The information and documents are ultimately subject to disclosure under the law. Therefore, an uncooperative attitude serves no useful purpose. At times it seems you are always on the defensive. At different stages of the case, the roles reverse. Don’t worry, it evens out throughout the course of the case.
7. Don’t make a public spectacle of your divorce. While it is tempting to provide your friends with a blow-by-blow accounting of your divorce on Facebook or Twitter, don’t do it. If you have nothing nice to say — and you probably don’t — don’t say anything at all. Facebook posts, emails and text messages all have a nasty tendency to show up in front of the judge.
8. Don’t gloat over your victories. Don’t rub in your legal victories. Losers try to even up the score.
9. Don’t lose your humanity. Divorce is challenging in many ways. It is not only a legal battle but an emotional journey as well. It has been said that criminal law matters bring out the best in bad people while family law matters bring out the worst in good people. There is truth to that. It is easy during this process to succumb to hatred, to point fingers and to place blame. But, while it may seem difficult to believe at this moment, there will come a day when all of this will be over and your life will go on. You wedding was beautiful; try not to make your divorce ugly. When children are involved, if you cannot stay married, strive to at least stay friends.