Plan for Divorce: a Five-part Series
Wedding planning guides abound. Visit nearly any supermarket check stand to find publications showcasing flowers, venues, gowns, rings, music, catering, and every other detail imaginable. Brides- and grooms-to-be expect to plan every detail of their special day down to the buttons and cufflinks! Everyone witnessing the union vows to support the happy couple in their journey together and off they go!
While no one expects or advocates for a fork in the road, practically speaking, we know it happens. In the United States as many as 60% of first marriages end in divorce. The percentage is even higher for second and third marriages.
As a Certified Divorce Lending Professional (CDLP™), I work with lots of homeowners experiencing divorce. I frequently hear “I don’t even know where to start” or “I don’t really care – just make this end!” Frustrated, emotional people have so many questions about child custody and visitation, financial matters, housing, domestic violence, employment concerns, insurance, estate plans … and the list goes on and on.
So, what’s the plan?
Many family lawyers have developed policies and procedures to guide clients through the legal process of divorce.
In this five-part series, I will use the word “divorce” to represent a breakup – whether the couple is same sex or opposite sex and whether the couple legally married or not.
While nearly all family lawyers I work with are dedicated, compassionate legal advisors, their job is to legally dissolve a marriage or dismantle a partnership such that future claims/suits are not worth pursuing. Use the family lawyer for the most important parts of his/her job and consult with others for the non-legal concerns.
This “plan stimulator” – while not comprehensive by any means – is designed to help the reader work on his or her own individual needs/goals, flesh out initial actions, and gather information. In the fog of unmet expectations and hurt feelings, it is possible to build a framework for the future.
In my experience, these are the most common considerations in a divorce:
- Emotional wellbeing: Yours
- Children of the marriage
- How to Get It Done
For each of these areas, the corresponding article will explore some typical concerns, open-ended suggestions, and service providers who specialize in this area.
Emotional Wellbeing: Yours
Put the Oxygen Mask on Yourself First, Then Assist Others
While this series is meant to be a practical, roll-up-your sleeves guide to planning, there is a reason Emotional Wellbeing is the first topic: you should be intentional about it. When you run yourself down and try to solve problems while you’re exhausted, you’re not in top negotiating form. Of course you want to advocate for your children, if you have them, but addressing your own needs should be considered Step 1 in positive parenting.
Be on the lookout for:
- Sleep problems – studies have shown loneliness is worse at night. Deliberately plan your rest and seek help if you need it. There are homeopathic alternatives to medication and often just adhering to a ritual helps. Exercising brings multiple benefits with “ability to sleep” among them.
- Substance abuse – self-medicating might help for a short time but it can turn into a long-term problem. If children are involved in the divorce, be mindful of what they observe.
- Nervous energy – the uncertainties in divorce seem to beget the nervous energy that can lead to sleeplessness and substance abuse. Think back to what has worked in prior times of transition. Make time for exercise, meditation, pastoral counseling and time with friends.
- The tendency to overshare – while it’s important to get a “divorce team” together (more on that below), avoid broadcasting on only one channel. Even well meaning people don’t know what to say … and might not want to hear about it anyway.
Give some thought to:
- Deliberately planning your free time: schedule a walk, write in a journal (this can be enormously helpful for charting your progress), set aside an hour a day for hobbies or activities you enjoy.
- Joining an informal group in your community related to your interests. If it’s outdoors (cycling, hiking, bird-watching) even better!
- Watching your language. Just this morning I had a client say his refinance will depend on what his ex will “let him do.” Because he and I are also friends, I pointed out she’s not the boss of him! This man has very experienced legal counsel and the ex will not be calling the shots. Speak of your own actions with intention and don’t surrender the driver’s seat to anyone other than your attorney. If your ex demeans you, ask yourself if those descriptors actually fit … and maybe also who gave that person the podium.
- Taking a break from social media. It’s not reality and I have read very upsetting stories about posts or comments being used against a person experiencing divorce. If you do post something or make a comment related to your divorce, read it aloud and see how it would sound in front of a jury or church audience. If you don’t feel fantastic about how those audiences would react, restrain yourself.
- Educating yourself on the “High Conflict Individual.” Even if you and your partner are reasonably amicable, the data on this personality is readily available and might help you negotiate with what you feel is unreasonable behavior. Major or minor, divorce is full of conflict and information about the HCI can reassure you you’re not alone.
- Identifying a “support group” or “divorce team” and check in with them on a regular basis. These could be paid professionals, your college friend out of state, a neighbor. Be mindful if your divorce is super-contentious and could wind up in court … but allow people who care about you to check in and do small, helpful chores for you. I have noticed people who have these groups or teams are not as likely to overshare (see above) and a little venting to a trusted friend might help resist the urge to post a rant online.
Whether or not you discipline yourself to write in a journal every day, here are some questions to ask yourself in this process:
What would help me “feel like myself” in this process?
Service providers in this area include qualified Divorce Coaches/Consultants, Marriage and Family Counselors, and trusted religious advisors. This may be a good time to consider “have to haves” in the divorce process – even while keeping in mind that divorce is a negotiation. Touch base with a long-time friend who knows the real you and revisit yourself. I, personally, found this gave me a reality check and a lot of positive energy.
What individual goals do I have for myself (Epic trip? Write a book? Improve my parenting skills? Retire at a certain age?) and how can the break-up plan keep them in mind?
Now is a great time to work them into your future factoring in your children, your worklife, your physical location (whether it stays the same or changes). Mental health professionals can help organize your thoughts.
Do I want to further my education with the idea of advancing in your industry or changing industries?
Continuing education opportunities abound! School districts, community colleges and online university programs provide connection and education on thousands of topics. Employers often sponsor training programs or professional development. Devote some nervous energy to exploring those options. Career counselors – independent or staff members of a continuing education organization – often provide aptitude and personality testing to help identify strengths and weaknesses.
It’s 1,000 times easier to say than do but consider whether the end of a relationship might serve as a “wake-up call” to put the past in the past and make some positive changes going forward.
Brooke Benson, MA, CDLP, works with homeowners experiencing divorce and occasionally shares her personal experience with the subject matter. This is Part I in a five-part series called “Plan for Divorce.” Watch this space for Part II: Children of the Marriage. To receive a copy of Parts II-V, contact Brooke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t miss out on the exciting premiere of “Plan for Divorce” hosted by Brooke Benson, airing on June 14th on voiceamerica.com. Be sure to tune in for valuable insights and strategies on navigating divorce.