It’s Dangerous to Go Alone, Take This!
We don’t practice for divorce. There are no trainings or dry runs to prepare for it. Even when we consider the people who get pre-nuptial agreements, no one goes into a marriage with divorce as the destination that they have in mind. Even if you’ve been down this road before, each divorce is a unique journey where no experience is going to be the same. In addition to the legal challenges, you will be confronted with social challenges like losing friends, the emotional stress over the orders or judgment for divorce, the shift from a “we” to a “me,” and more. Recognizing and addressing these challenges with the help of a team will have a significant impact on your transition to what comes next.
Before we get into the types of people that we recommend you add to your team, a few things need to be acknowledged. First off, your team will likely be different from my team, your spouse’s team, and so on. Everyone’s needs are different and it will be critical that you continually stop and take an assessment of where you are and what you want to accomplish. This will help you determine what your team needs to look like. Second, some of your team can only bring you so far; don’t be afraid to say goodbye when their job is complete and don’t be afraid to bring on new faces for a fresh perspective or unique strength. Third, make sure the members of your team can communicate with each other. Collaboration between specific people or groups can achieve better outcomes than each team member being an isolated unit. Finally, don’t forget that you play an important role on the team. You are the Captain and every person you bring on is here to compliment you with their strengths, knowledge, and experience. Your team will guide and fight for you, but the most successful outcomes will involve and require your input. Do not be afraid to take control of your life in a time when it seems like you have none. It is essential, and your team is here to support you.
To pull your team together, there are a lot of different directions you can go. Your team should be a reflection of your goals and desires for the future. For the rest of this article, we’re going to focus on four types of people that we find most clients need and bring on board.
Given that we’re discussing the prospect of divorce, arguably the most urgent need is to find an attorney you believe in. They will be your guide for the legal process and be the direct and most active advocate for you in the divorce. When selecting your attorney, be sure to focus on firms and attorneys that exclusively practice Family Law, or that take a significant majority of cases in the Family Court (IE in excess of 75% of their case load should be divorce/custody related). While there are a lot of general practice attorneys out there that can help you cobble together a separation agreement, we often find that people who go this route will end up back in court after the divorce for modifications in the future. This isn’t a knock against general practice attorneys – this is simply an understanding that many of them do not have the same experience as someone who exclusively focuses on one field of law. Experience is important when crafting out language or an agreement that will govern behaviors between you and your spouse for years after your divorce.
Once legal needs are met, in our opinion, the next most valuable member for your divorce team will be a therapist. Even if we disregard the high likelihood of emotional distress between you and your spouse, a therapist can also help equip you and your family with the tools to succeed in the future. Children, for example, can benefit by learning skills to make a healthy transition to a new living arrangement. It also cannot be overstated enough that the Courts look highly on people who are actively working towards improving themselves. If your divorce was initiated in part because of self-destructive behaviors such as severe chemical dependencies, it will only help your case to prove that you are addressing the issue. Finally, therapists generally charge less than your attorney will. On top of being better equipped to help you deal with your emotional needs, it will save you money on fees.
Depending on where you are in life and the assets you’ve accumulated, consulting with a financial advisor can help secure your future. This can be particularly helpful with identifying tax implications of your divorce, readjusting plans for retirement or other large savings, etc. Most attorneys will know a financial planner that can help you, especially if there is a division of an asset like a 401(k) that needs to be considered. Also, like most professional fields, there are some that are more in tune with the specific needs of a divorcing couple. Be sure to ask around.
The last person that we recommend bringing on to your team is a life coach. For a lot of our clients, especially our older clients, we’re not just separating assets. We’re talking about untangling years, decades, of a shared identity before you’re thrust back out into the world as an individual. Coping with this can be a vulnerable and difficult experience as you try to navigate your future. Someone in your corner that can help you rediscover the who you are as an individual can be invaluable for setting the expectations of the future.
Find your team members – whether they’re professionals, your friends, or your family, and make sure that they can each bring something to the table to help you chart out the future. Going through a divorce is never easy, but please, do not go it alone.