The decision to divorce is a huge one. But the next biggest decision you will make is the type of divorce you want. If you want a “good divorce” — one that is amicable, based on mutual cooperation and fairness — don’t leave it to chance. This article will outline the secrets to a good divorce, and explain why mediation is the best choice you can make.
We have all seen “bad” divorces. These are divorces which quickly become adversarial and toxic. In the wrong hands, this type of divorce can result in a series of battles that are costly on many levels and leave lasting scars. The most important thing to realize is that, no matter what has occurred, you have choices regarding your divorce proceedings and the chance to achieve a good divorce.
So, what are the secrets to a good divorce?
- Start with the end in mind. Decide early on the sort of post-divorce relationship you want to have. If you want to part on good terms, commit yourself to that path. Otherwise, it is easy for fear and mistrust to take hold, leading to hostile exchanges that quickly escalate. The sooner couples commit themselves to a cooperative divorce, the better. A good rule of thumb is to start out cooperating with your spouse and continue cooperating as long as the cooperation is reciprocated. If things have already derailed it’s harder to stay on course, but with the help of a skilled and experienced mediator, many couples are able to transition to a more cooperative track.
- Take a long view towards the future. A good divorce lays the foundation for your own future happiness and the well-being of your children. After divorce, many divorced couples enjoy a life-long friendship. Other couples choose to sever ties, but have achieved peace and closure and are truly able to move forward in their lives.
- 3. Do your homework. Think about the future. Where do you want to be in one year? Five years? What will you need to enable you to get there? Before making any agreements, be sure you have a clear understanding of your joint and separate finances, as well as the relevant law. Consult with legal, financial and tax professionals as needed.
- Get emotional support. Strong emotions are normal and to be expected in divorce, including disappointment, anger, betrayal, guilt and grief. Allowing yourself time to feel and address your emotions will help you in the long run. It enables you to be more objective and make better financial decisions. Conversely, if you have not dealt with your emotions, it is likely that they will be played out in the divorce process. For example, people with built-up anger frequently use the legal system as a way to hurt each other and take revenge. This will guarantee a bad divorce — one that is far more costly, protracted and difficult than it would otherwise have been. Ask your mediator for referrals to therapists, divorce coaches and support groups as needed.
- Move beyond blame. One of the hardest things in a divorce can be to move beyond blame. Blame gives people a sense of being “right.” It also keeps them focused on the other person, and can leave them feeling powerless. Regardless of the circumstances, you can empower yourself by focusing on you and taking responsibility for your life and your life choices. It can be difficult, but is the path to health and happiness.
- Choose a process that supports your goals. If you hire traditional lawyers and engage in an adversarial court process, you can surely expect more conflict and embitterment. If you want to foster a cooperative post-divorce relationship, pick a non-adversarial process, such as mediation, that supports a cooperative approach.
- Be realistic about costs. The traditional court system is expensive. Most divorce attorneys require large retainers just to get started. Even for cases that settle, it is common for each spouse to pay attorney fees of $50,000-100,000 and much more. Like mediation, “collaborative law” offers a non-adversarial approach. But collaborative law is often equally or more expensive than court due to the expense of the four-way meetings between the couple and two attorneys. In addition to being non-adversarial, mediation may also the least expensive divorce process.
- Invest in the best mediator you can find. If you decide to use mediation, the next most important decision will be choosing the right mediator. You need to find a mediator who is sufficiently experienced and qualified to guide you through the divorce process successfully. Equally crucial is finding a mediator who will understand and support your mutual goals, including any special needs of your situation.
For over thirty years, mediation has given couples a way to achieve a good divorce. For these couples, maintaining an amicable relationship was a priority. At the start, they often weren’t sure how to achieve this or whether this was even possible, but they knew a good relationship was what they wanted. They also knew what they didn’t want — going to court, working with adversarial lawyers and paying exorbitant legal fees. There is often distrust in the mediation process at the beginning. However, for couples who are able to commit to the process, the success rate of mediation is very high.