The end of a marriage brings challenges. How you navigate those challenges in the moment affects your long-term happiness and success. That’s not rocket science, but it’s also not unrelated to the success of your legal case. What people often don’t realize is that these times of crisis – dividing marital finances, determining custody of children, and rediscovering your personal identity irrespective of your partner – have a keen way of affecting you even when you think you are staying afloat. Remembering to stay committed to what’s important to you can help you thrive and not just survive.
As a family law attorney with more than two decades of experience handling divorce cases for straight and gay couples alike, here are my suggestions for how to handle and emerge from divorce so that you and your children can thrive.
Remember the long game – you reap what you sow.
Much of life can seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the same is true in divorce. The adage of treating people how you want to be treated still rings true. You are embarking on a new era of engaging with your ex in a different way, a new way. Perhaps that will be as co-parents for the rest of your lives.
The time you spend now trying to take the high road, find the silver lining, or maintain self- control will serve you well. Remember to consider your goals in your divorce and ensure they include a focus on how you want life to look on the other side.
Think before you speak (and especially before you type).
Don’t make your life or your lawyer’s job harder. It’s much easier to advocate for a reasonable resolution if your lawyer doesn’t also have to explain away a verbal altercation, a name-calling tirade, or inappropriate comments made from parent to child, which is all made even harder when the words are printed.
Social media posts have a strong presence in the divorce world. You can’t escape them even if you later delete or revise your post. Inevitably, someone has a screenshot. Words matter. Your ex is no longer your sounding board or pseudo-therapist. Redirect those personal downloads and outbursts elsewhere.
Utilize professionals – you’re worth the investment.
So many things we do to take care of ourselves are routine. If you break your arm, you immediately think to go to the doctor to treat the problem. You go to the dentist twice a year to prevent dental issues.
Similarly, resources exist to help you manage your divorce and take care of yourself in the process while also preventing more detrimental harm. Mediators, co-parenting therapists and parenting coordinators (which assist families in high-conflict divorces) can help you discuss and resolve disputes so that you and your ex can evolve into the next iteration of your relationship, moving on from intimate partners.
Divorce coaches, life coaches, and individual therapists provide a resource to process the circumstances while also helping you get unstuck. Financial advisors and certified divorce financial analysts can help you get back on track for savings and retirement after divorce.
Realize there are trained professionals available who can help improve your outlook on life and the divorce process. Make the call. You’re worth the investment.
Pay attention to your lawyer’s advice.
Your lawyer is trained to be your advocate, and you’re paying good money for her advice. Share relevant information with your lawyer, and make sure you keep her updated as things evolve. Legal advice is fact-specific, so as facts or circumstances change, so might your lawyer’s advice. Be a good steward of your own dollars and be forthright and responsive with your lawyer.
But, don’t let your lawyer stand in your way.
You don’t forfeit all responsibility for yourself and your actions by hiring a lawyer, and you also don’t lose your voice. Your lawyer shouldn’t stand in your way of resolving your case on your terms. Ultimately, your lawyer wants what’s best for you, and part of that process for lawyers is ensuring you know all of your options and pros and cons of each option.
If you have ideas of resolution or approach, share them with your lawyer. If you feel like the path of your legal case is straying from your goals of a peaceful resolution, talk to your lawyer about other options.
Family lawyers have a unique obligation – not just opportunity – to influence the path and outcome of your divorce. The words and tone lawyers use throughout a case – especially at the outset – affect the trajectory of the issues. If lawyers do not take opportunities to dial down conflict, you and your ex won’t be able to either. Find a lawyer whose focus and method meets your need.
Lauren V. Lewis is a family law attorney with Essex Richards, P.A. in Charlotte. Her work involves issues of child custody, child support, alimony, equitable distribution, separation agreements, premarital agreements, postnuptial agreements, and other family law issues. She is active in collaborative family law and a member of Charlotte Collaborative Divorce Professionals. Lewis is a NC-board-certified family law specialist, a certified parenting coordinator, and guardian ad litem.