One of the hardest things about divorce, regardless of whether you initiate it, your spouse initiates it, or you come to the decision mutually, is making the shift from “we” to “me.” In marriage, we’re taught to compromise and look after the family’s best interest. But in divorce, each spouse has to consider what’s best for him or her – which is a difficult shift in perspective for many to absorb.
When we’re consulting clients, we walk them through a checklist of things they should and shouldn’t do when entering the divorce process. The primary motivation for this checklist is protection – protecting the client’s negotiating position, assets, and emotional state. Divorce is a challenging process, and in far too many cases, we’ve seen people make the situation more complicated for themselves.
Here are some of the most important items to be mindful of when preparing for a divorce.
First, stay in your home. The marital home is typically one of the biggest assets a couple shares ownership in. If you decide to move out at the outset of the divorce process, it puts you at a disadvantage in negotiations over who gets to keep the house – especially if you and your spouse have children. You should only leave if you believe you and/or your children are in danger, or if your attorney specifically advises you to move out. If it’s difficult for you and your spouse to co-exist in the same house, you should encourage your spouse to move out.
Though it might be difficult to avoid fighting with your spouse, you need to do so. Steer clear of arguments, and definitely don’t engage in any physical fighting. If you are assaulted or threatened by your spouse, contact the police as soon as you’re able, and then contact your lawyer immediately after you reach police. You will want to press charges, and you will need the threat of further violence to factor into your decree, for your own safety.
If you’ve entered a new relationship prior to or upon getting divorced, defer it, and if you haven’t, don’t start one until the divorce proceedings are completed. While the presence of a relationship may not affect a court decision, it will most certainly affect a negotiated settlement. And, should your case go to litigation, a number of lawyers won’t hesitate to make your infidelity part of the case.
Perhaps most importantly, if children are involved, put them first. Unless you have a safety concern, don’t interfere with visits or phone calls between your children and spouse. When your children are with your spouse, make sure you’re keeping in regular contact with them. If you’re involved in a relationship outside the marriage, make sure that person doesn’t have contact with your children while the divorce proceedings are in effect.
This is admittedly a challenging list, and might require more self-sacrifice than you’re comfortable with. However, these are important steps to take to place yourself in the best possible position to either face divorce court, to enter into mediation, or to enter the collaborative divorce process. It will be ultimately worth it to you, and to your children, to take these steps.