Begin As You Intend to Go On

Much to many divorcing couples’ credit, at the beginning of their divorce, they are both committed to what folks usually call “an amicable divorce.”  They want to deal with each other courteously and peaceably.

Some couples will even say they are committed to mediating their divorce, staying out of court and saving money. They have no doubt this would be the best way to deal with a sad, difficult situation without making it much, much worse.

Most people want their divorce to be civil even if they are not the person seeking the divorce or if they are not yet resigned to the idea of getting a divorce. Many couples know they cannot spend their retirement savings or their children’s college savings on attorneys’ fees. They are willing to resolve their issues peaceably. How do these couples “begin” with the intention of having an amicable divorce and then “go on” to see that intention realized?

Assemble a Team That is Pulling For You

It is critical for divorcing spouses to surround themselves with people who support their commitment to a civil, amicable divorce. If a lawyer is hired by either spouse, that lawyer should understand and support their client’s commitment to a mediated divorce or a negotiated divorce.  This could mean that both spouses hire lawyers who provide legal advice and then go with them to mediate the unresolved issues. Or their lawyers could simply communicate the parties’ positions and proposed solutions throughout settlement negotiations until a final settlement of all issues could be reached.

Finding a lawyer who will support your commitment to a civil divorce may require interviewing several lawyers. Hiring the same lawyer who represented your friend or co-worker in their contentious, year-long divorce may not be a good idea. Any lawyer should be willing to provide realistic, honest advice about the cost of alternatives – is compromising on a few of your positions more costly than the possible cost of going to court and potentially fighting over those issues as well as the issues you thought were already resolved?

A family or individual counselor is a valuable team member because they can help spouses and children navigate all of the non-legal issues that come with divorce. A counselor can even help divorcing spouses work out a parenting plan together. The changes that divorce brings to family relationships, friendships and working relationships can be profound. Discussing these issues with someone who, like you, is interested in seeing you make good decisions and healthy adjustments can be an excellent decision. A good counselor can help before, during and after a divorce to support a couples’ decision to divorce amicably and peaceably, and that can set the tone for their relationship going forward.

A financial advisor who will meet with both spouses together before divorce can provide valuable information about the financial realities of dividing assets, potential difficulties of refinancing a joint mortgage into one person’s name, or the tax implications that might be associated with owning a particular asset. A financial advisor, unlike a lawyer, is not an advocate for one spouse but can communicate a single message to both spouses about their financial reality. The spouses can then make decisions based on the same set of facts in a non-adversarial environment. These decision can then be communicated to their lawyers and added to their agreement.

Be Clear About Your Goals With The Nay-Sayers

There are going to be people who want to be on your team but who should not be team members.  Who are these people?  They are your friends who encourage you “take them to court” and “keep them from seeing the kids.” They are lawyers who will not tell you honestly that you are not likely to end up with 90% of the marital assets and that 50% is closer to the mark, but who will take your family’s money to “fight for” your 90%. They are your family members who ostracize your spouse and make family interaction and communication more difficult and emotionally charged than it has to be.

These people are certainly your supporters in some fashion, but they are not supporting your vision for your divorce and life after divorce. A civilized, amicable divorce sets the tone for your family relationships after the divorce.  Achieving any worthwhile goal will take work – seeking like-minded supporters and advisors, making realistic compromises for the ultimate benefit of your children or financial security, or working with a counselor. The result of this work can be a more functional family, happier children, and a more secure financial future. All of these are excellent goals worth working for. Begin as you intend to go on.

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