Most people want to keep their divorce out of the courtroom. They hope their spouse will agree their marriage is over and then they can discuss the parenting and finances as reasonable people who once loved each other. Few of us relish even the thought of the nastiness and expense of a litigated divorce and no wants the long, drawn out negotiations that keep you locked in a state of limbo for months on end.
Realistically, a litigated divorce may be unavoidable in some situations but for many people a civilized divorce is absolutely possible but you have to be emotionally prepared to choose that path.
Joining me for this Conversation to chat about the practical ways you can keep your divorce civil is financial expert Sally Boyle. Listen in below or keep reading …
Recognize The Emotional Disconnect
It is estimated that in some 80 percent of divorces, the decision to end the marriage is made unilaterally by one party. In reaching that decision, there’s an emotional cycle that anyone who suffers a loss goes through. There’s anger, fear, blame, denial and eventually acceptance.
By the time you are communicating your decision to your spouse, you’ve reached the acceptance phase. That doesn’t mean that you necessarily like the decision but simply that you’ve determined that it is the best decision that can be made under the circumstances.
Your spouse, on the other hand, has not worked through that emotional cycle. The communication of your decision starts them on the cycle.
“There is an emotional disconnect that takes a little bit of patience on the part of the person initiating the divorce to recognize that their partner is not in sync with them emotionally, to see that the anger or the blame that they might be witnessing from their partner is in fact a natural response that if they look backwards maybe they were experiencing when they were trying to save the marriage or salvage it,” said Boyle.
The spouse who didn’t make the decision also experiences this disconnect. To them, it’s often a puzzle as to why their partner is not upset, is not crying, is so matter of fact about the decision. This is because they’ve reached acceptance.
“You just accept the fact that this is your decision,” said Boyle. “In that acceptance there’s the calm that I think does drive the receiving party crazy.”
Consider A Physical Separation
Boyle favors a physical separation, if finances will support two households and provided that the person staying in the marital home doesn’t feel abandoned and the spouses can still communicate in a reasonable way.
“When we realize we’re divorcing, it is an extremely emotional time where mistakes can be made,” said Boyle. “We say things we don’t mean, we post unfriendly things on social media that we can’t take back. A physical separation gives us enough space to maybe embrace our emotions and to try to calm them.”
Another plus to physical separations is that if you have children, it gives you the opportunity to start figuring out a parenting schedule that works for your children and to test things out before putting it all in writing for the court.
From a financial standpoint, a physical separation also allows you to test out the realities of running two separate homes. “I think it helps to separately come to the realization of what managing your own household is going to feel like financially,” said Boyle.
This can be a particularly important learning opportunity for the person who hasn’t been handling the household accounts.
Note: A physical separation is not the same as a legal separation.
Live Separately Under The Same Roof
A physical separation is often not a possibility and in that case, couples do live separately under the same roof. It’s often possible for one spouse to vacate the marital bedroom and to move to another part of the house such as a guest room or the basement.
Boyle says that this doesn’t just mean packing up your stuff and moving it to the other part of the house. You have to talk about it.
“If the person who is initiating the divorce is aware of where their partner is emotionally, they can recognize that and have some compassion for it,” said Boyle. “They can say to their partner, ‘I am not trying to hurt you and I understand exactly how you feel. I’ve been frustrated myself over the last couple of years. If I choose to move into this bedroom or this separate section of the house, it’s not to hurt you. It’s to give you enough space to process what you’re feeling right now.”
Hold Off On Discussing The Finances
It’s common advice to approach discussions about dividing the finances as a business transaction and that’s much easier for the person who has reached acceptance than for the spouse who’s just started on that emotional journey.
“Give yourself a month or two before you start saying I’m going to keep this, you’re going to take that,” said Boyle. “Those conversations can reignite those emotions.”
Even when the emotions appeared to have calmed, it’s easy for discussions around some shared assets, especially the home, to trigger those hard emotions again and it’s important to recognize that.
The art here is finding the pace that will work for both of you. That usually means that the party initiating the divorce has to slow down and that can be frustrating.
“I think divorce is an ongoing exercise in patience,” said Boyle.
I agree with Boyle and I believe that patience is rewarded because it increases the possibility of reaching an agreement out of court because the other party has had the opportunity to work through the emotions and is in a better position to make the serious decisions involved with divorce.
Boyle experienced divorce 18 years ago and even with her financial background she says looking back she can see mistakes she made . “I made a lot of very important decisions at a time when I was not emotionally at my best.”
It was these mistakes that prompted Boyle to write her book. “I saw clients coming to me and they were making the same mistakes and not necessarily because they weren’t intelligent, bright people but because they were trying to make these decisions at a time when they were having emotional difficulties.”
Learn About The Legal Process
People often think that once they’ve made the decision to divorce, the next step is to hire an attorney and that may not be the best approach. Rather, you should take the time to educate yourself about the legal process where you live, the different options for working through the legal process (e.g. tradition, collaborative, mediation, pro se) and develop an assessment for the likelihood of you and your STBX reaching an agreement.
Once you have that, you’re in a better position to choose an attorney whose skills match your needs.
“I feel that when you go to an attorney, just like if you go to a surgeon, and that attorney has a litigation bias, that’s what you’re going get,” said Boyle. “You’re going to go right to court.”
Don’t Rely On The Advice Of Friends And Family
Friends and family mean well and they often want to do whatever they can to help you once they learn you’re getting divorce but be aware that their advice may not the best for your situation.
Every divorce is unique and what made a particular attorney good for your friend’s situation, doesn’t mean that attorney is a good fit for you. Not only are the specifics of your divorce likely to be very different, the legal landscape changes too. Divorce laws are state based so what applied in Illinois won’t necessarily apply in North Carolina and for sure, if your friend’s divorce was 10 – 15 years ago, the laws most likely are different now.
Instead of friends, Boyle recommends turning to therapists, financial advisers, coaches who have significant experience in divorce and who are going to provide information to help you make decisions.
“Knowledge is power,” said Boyle. “It gives you the power to take control of your own decisions.”
My guest for this Conversation was Sally Boyle, CFP, CDFA®, author of Deconstructing Divorce: Taking The Mystery Out Of Divorce And Its Impact On Your Family, Finances And Future.