First steps in getting a divorce may surprise you

May 31, 2023

Divorce is one of the hardest life transitions a person can make. When people get divorced, they often go immediately into protection mode and think the first thing they need to do is get a divorce attorney. In our decades of helping people with divorce financial planning, we have found there are a couple of equally important steps. If you are facing a divorce, here are a few things to consider:

Step 1: Take care of you

The very first thing to do is take a breath. Pause and make sure you are taking care of yourself.

Consider seeing a therapist regularly, maybe every other week. Therapy gives you a place to unload and work through your thoughts without any fear of judgement or worry that you are dominating the conversation.

More than that, it gives you a way to find your center and move forward from it. Divorce is a scary time, and we can be quite reactive during it. Get to a calm place before you start making big decisions. We make very different decisions when we are calm vs when we are reactive, and these decisions will reverberate differently through your family and through the rest of your life.

In my experience, the easiest divorces have one of two elements, both of which lower the emotions:

  • At least one client in therapy, or
  • If they have been separated a long time

Step 2: Learn about the divorce process

You’ll live with the divorce rules for a long time. Start learning about the process as it stands today.

Learn how parenting plans, child support, and spousal maintenance work these days. They are different than they once were and can vary by state, so do your research. If you have children, the book “Mom’s House, Dad’s House” is a good starting point.

There are three ways you can go about the divorce process, all of which usually require an attorney:

1. Collaborative process: Both parties agree not to go to court. They can still bring in consultants and experts, but they agree to come to a compromise together. This is a settlement-minded approach.

2. Mediation: Most people use a mediator to help bring things to agreement. Your attorney can recommend if he/she should be present during mediation. In some cases, your attorney or attorneys can be brought in at the end to codify the settlement agreement.

3. Negotiate through your attorney(s): Your case might or might not go to court, but that option will always be in your back pocket. Your attorney will bring in a mediator and financial experts as needed. Many cases are a combination of working through your attorney and mediation.

Throughout: Be patient

In every situation, there is a leaver and a leavie. Either party can be the “cause” of the divorce, but the leaver is the one who makes the decision to file for divorce.

The leavie might think that everything is fine or that you’re working on your problems and aren’t at the divorce stage yet. So, a key thing for the leaver is to realize that the leavie will likely feel blindsided and move into fight or flight mode, even if the leaver thinks they should have seen this coming.

The leaver should take accountability for their part in getting to this stage, even if they feel the leavie is the “cause” of the divorce. This will help fill in the leavie’s hurt and move them to a place where they can negotiate.

The leaver must be patient and give the leavie a chan­ce to catch up and process the situation, regardless of how you got there or the reasons behind the divorce. The leaver needs to tell the leavie their intentions, take things slowly one step at a time, make temporary arrangements, let them get used to it. Keep life stable in the meantime (unless the situation is dangerous). Waiting for them to get to a calm state can help things move along more smoothly in the long run.

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