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Surviving Divorce

Some Basics on What to Expect When You Decide to Divorce

Divorce is never easy. I know when I made the difficult decision to divorce several years ago, that I wish I had found a basic overview of what I could expect during the divorce process. Just making the decision to divorce after years of trying to "make it work" was extremely difficult. If you find, despite trying every other avenue that you end up facing a divorce you may arrive at the juncture of “tired and overwhelmed”. My hope is that the following list will help take away some of the mystery of the divorce process so that you are better equipped to handle what lies ahead.

Expect some stress: Wikipedia defines stress as “a person's response to a stressor, such as an environmental condition or a stimulus…the body's method of reacting to a challenge." Well, a divorce is certainly a stimulating challenge to say the least. You can expect to feel some stress, so make sure you take the time to practice good habits like deep breathing, getting sleep and eating healthy. You can also read my article "Managing Divorce Stress" on my website.

Did you know? Not only will you likely be selecting a lawyer, but you can choose different ways to divorce as well! A TRADITIONAL divorce uses two lawyers (and any needed experts) who may settle the case through mediation outside of court if the parties can agree. If the parties cannot agree, the parties will go to court and a judge will make whatever decisions need to be made. A COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE uses a team of professionals including lawyers for each party, a facilitator and often a financial professional. The parties pledge to be open and honest and not to go to court which can save money and time on compiling the information needed to resolve financial and parenting issues. It also avoids the high cost of a trial. This approach aims to help preserve family relationships, reduce suffering, offer confidentiality and provide more customized results. MEDIATION is a process wherein a mediator will help the parties resolve disputes, but does not offer legal advice. As such, your lawyer will be there to assist you. Ask your lawyer about these options.

Parenting Issues: If you have minor children, a "PARENTING PLAN" will be created, outlining a timesharing schedule for you and your spouse with the children, as well as how parenting decisions will be made until the children reach the age of majority. Both parties will also need to attend a required four hour state sponsored parenting course. Resolving the parenting and time sharing issues amicably is a worthy goal as there are many studies that show the children of divorcing parents adjust best when their parents get along.

Financial Disclosure: Financial disclosure is a critical aspect of most divorces. Both parties need to gather a lot of detailed information about what you own (assets), what you owe (liabilities), what you earn (from all sources) and what you spend (expenses). This information is often compiled into what is call a FINANCIAL AFFIDAVIT, wherein you swear under oath to the accuracy of your financial disclosure. Supporting documents such as tax returns, pay stubs, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts and loan and credit card accounts are likewise often exchanged. If there is a business, tax returns and financial statements are also exchanged.

The Final Hearing: If you are fortunate enough to settle your case, whether through mediation, litigation or the collaborative process, you and your spouse will sign a "MARITAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT" as well as a Parenting Plan, which clearly describes the resolution of the financial and parenting issues. The Marital Settlement Agreement is then submitted to the Judge who ratifies and approves it and incorporates it into the final divorce decree, which is called a "FINAL JUDGMENT." If you don't settle your case, and need to try it before the Court, the Judge will resolve any issues you have not agreed on and enter a Final Judgment.

Moving On: Divorce is often compared to the grieving process, in the sense that a divorce signifies the "death" of a marriage. Grief has five general stages although you may swing back and forth from one stage to another. The stages include

1. Denial/Isolation: You may feel numb during this stage or the process may seem "surreal."

2. Anger: this may show up in any setting, work or home.

3. Bargaining: You may question the decision to divorce at this time.

4. Sadness/Depression: These are not the same thing, but if you are having lasting feelings such as hopelessness, low mood or suicidal thoughts the sadness may have crossed over to depression.

5. Acceptance: The intensity of the process has reduced and is substituted by a greater sense of calm and resolution. Don't be surprised if this process takes some time, as it is often two to three years before one truly moves on. However, with the assistance of family and friends and/or the assistance of a competent and experienced therapist, you will be well on your way to a happy and fulfilled new life.

Managing Divorce Stress

Deborah Downs-Spencer, Ph.D.

The Process of divorce is undoubtedly one of the most stressful life events you and your family can experience. Here are some survival tips.

I BELLY BREATHE! Belly breathing is the FUNDAMENTAL skill you need to keep calm. Exhale fully to a count of six, pause for a count of 3. Next, breathe in deep from your belly then fill up your lungs to count of six. Pause for a count of 3 and repeat.

II SELF-MONITOR! Recognize that you are, at minimum, in the middle of a period of grief and loss, and possibly in a period of trauma. You are likely to experience times when you feel numb and times when your mood swings from anger to sadness and back again. Recognize these feelings as signals to stop and take care of yourself.

III SELF-CARE! This is a time not to expect too much from yourself. It is also a time to take care of the basics...good sleep, healthy food, deep breathing, meditation, stretching and exercise can help lower stress.

IV EDUCATE! Learning the language of divorce can be overwhelming, but information gathering can help. Take some time to learn about the different types of divorce options (e.g. litigation, collaborative divorce, mediation) that will fit your situation best. If you have an attorney, he or she can be very helpful in explaining what to expect.

V SUPPORT! Getting support may mean talking with a friend, joining a divorce support group, connecting with a Stephen Minister at a church or starting therapy for yourself and/or your children. DO NOT ISOLATE. Isolation only makes things worse and can lead to depression.

VI READ! There are a multitude of divorce self-help books out there. I like "Divorce and New Beginnings" by Genevieve Clapp, Ph.D. (but find a book that works for you.) Books for kids include "The Divorce Workbook for Children" by Lisa Schab (ages 6-12) or "Dinosaur Divorce" by Marc Brown (young children) and "It's Not Your Fault Koko Bear" by Vicki Lansky also "Two Homes" by Claire Masurel and "Mom's House, Dad's House" for kids by Isolina Ricci.