We have all heard people refer to some divorces as “messy” or “ugly”. Fortunately, these cases are not the norm but every so often there are cases that are so fueled by anger and vindictiveness that they take inordinate amounts of time, money and emotional energy to get them resolved. Almost every divorce litigant starts off the process expressing a desire to “be amicable”, “stay out of court”, and “keep it clean”. How exactly can that be done? In my experience, following a few simple steps can result in a successful and fair divorce.
- Channel Anger. Anger is almost unavoidable in a divorce, but it has its proper time and place. Feel free to vent when necessary to friends, therapists, support groups, and any others who you can rely on to help you work through it. Try to keep your anger out of the negotiations. Question your own motivations behind your proposals. There is an old expression that criminal lawyers see bad people at their best and family law attorneys see good people at their worst. People who are normally pretty mild mannered and kind often default to “scorched earth” when they sense an attack.
- Do An Ongoing Cost-Benefit Analysis. Although the agreement on the table may leave you with less than you feel a judge would award to you at trial, you have to look at the big picture. Your assessment should take into account the literal cost of fighting — attorney’s fees — as well as the emotional cost of further delays.
- Accept Compromise. As Mick Jagger says, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.” After a divorce, no one feels like they’ve “won” and most believe their exes “won”. Dissatisfaction is guaranteed when you are dividing one household into two and dividing the time you spend with your children. To cope with the grieving process, try and appreciate, or even enumerate, the compromises you are both making. Everyone feels like he or she is losing out. The trick is ensuring you wind up with what you need in order to move on.
- Ignore the Peanut Gallery. Do not listen to your well intentioned neighbor or coworker or friend or family member who knows nothing about the law but is able to rattle off the custody arrangements and support awards that all the people they know have obtained in a variety of courts. Listening to these people will cause you to become insecure. It will make you second guess yourself or feel you’re caving too early or being a sucker. Keep in mind that family law cases are determined on a very factual basis. It is guaranteed that the Peanut Gallery only has limited facts about your case and about the other cases. Nobody knows everything about a marriage except the two people in it. Rely on your friends for emotional support only. Unless they are a family law attorney practicing regularly in your jurisdiction, do not rely on them for legal strategy or advice.
- Find the Right Professionals. Retain an attorney and/or a mediator who understands your desire to keep things clean and amicable and agrees to help you try and achieve that goal (assuming your spouse and his or her lawyer are on the same page). Don’t just blindly call lawyers out of the phone book. Talk to others about their experiences with various lawyers and find a lawyer who has a good track record for achieving good results for clients outside of court and who is willing to work with you to keep you on track in your efforts to “keep it clean”.