The time before your divorce is full of anticipation. It’s also full of lots of questions and uncertainty. If you’re anything like me, I wasn’t sure where to turn to find answers. The reality is that everyone’s experience is unique, although the general themes of what to prepare and what you should know before your divorce is fairly similar.
Earlier this year, I posted this question to a group of divorced and soon-to-be divorced people. I asked, “What do you wish you knew before your divorce?” I got so many responses, I couldn’t fit them into one blog post! (The first post here is full of information about health and other insurance, the process, and few other questions.) So, this second post is a companion to that one to prepare you even more for what a divorce may bring.
The issue of higher education expenses varies greatly from family to family. In addition, college tuition varies by state. Often, there’s an “end” to childhood (and child support payments) when your children turn 18 or graduate high school. That said, some states are including language around college tuition in their agreements. My advice is to consider college and how you wish to help launch your children into adulthood as you’re mediating your divorce. Even if your children are young, things like savings plans and responsibilities must be considered. After all, some parents prepare for college for their childrens’ entire lives, so this could be a significant consideration before your divorce.
Key Lesson: It is never too early to consider how you wish to support your child into adulthood, especially if large tuition payments are part of the equation. Discuss this in mediation for a smooth resolution.
Further Reading: 3 Things Divorced Parents Need to Plan for the College Transition
At the end of the day, you can agree to everything under the sun. You can also hope for the best, especially if your ex-spouse is agreeable and your divorce is amicable. However, be mindful that items in your agreement could be ignored, particularly as situations change. Further, are you willing to go back to court to fight it out if they do? Unfortunately the court may still not hold the other person in contempt; they have all the power for that. This is a “pick your battle” type of situation. I always advise setting clear expectations from the get-go.
Key Lesson: Things written into divorce decrees are sometimes ignored, so think about how it will be enforced. A mediator can help you think through appropriate consequences.
The divorce process can certainly be a beast. Before my divorce, I knew it was going to be an undertaking, but I wasn’t prepared for the abundance of paperwork it creates. That’s not to mention the balance of keeping the house going, maintaining routines that are as close to normal as possible for my kids, and general upset of the process.
My most successful clients are the ones who are organized. After all, the process throws a lot at you very quickly. In the stress of the divorce, it’s easy for your fight-or-flight instincts to kick in and other mental functions like memory to slow down. Having an organized system with all your bank and credit card statements, calendars, and other documents will save you countless hours in legal fees and “don’t let the kids see you get frustrated” moments.
Key Lesson: Organization! Keep a well-organized binder or Google Folder to house all of your important documents so it’s one less thing you have to worry about in the divorce process.
Further Reading: 4 Ways to Stay Organized Throughout the Divorce Process
While you may no longer be co-parenting your child and enforcing boundaries, expectations, and rules at home, raising a child doesn’t end at 18. Like I mentioned above, there will be situations where you and your ex have to agree on things for the benefit of your children. Further, you will also have to present a united front on how you wish to lead your children into the early adulthood phase of their growth.
Having a clear plan on what you wish to do as your children grow up is one benefit of mediation; you can talk about things that don’t fall within the state’s parameters for your separation agreement. A parenting plan may seem silly as you don’t need to do much “parenting” after a certain age, but it will help you to set guidelines for how you as parents continue to support your children.
Key Lesson: Your children will still be your children even as they become adults. Consider a mediation meeting to talk about how you wish to continue guiding your children into adulthood, especially if circumstances have changed since your initial agreement was written.
Further Reading: Co-Parenting Teens: Helping Your Teen Through Divorce
A noticeable theme emerged when I asked people what they wish they knew before a divorce; it centered around divorce mindset and trust. I heard things like:
And, in one instance, someone who believed their ex who said she couldn’t keep the house because she didn’t know how to maintain it. She also wrote that she should have known she was able to figure it out. While I don’t advocate for “shoulding” on yourself, having the belief that you can learn to manage what comes up is a worthwhile lesson.
Generally, I think people try to do their best. As much as you may not want to recognize that your ex is going through stress and emotional issues as well (especially if they initiated the divorce), the reality is that they are working through their own things, too.
That said, this time before a divorce (and also during and after) will rock you. Having a solid mindset and self-care practice seems foolhardy, but it is so important. Respect yourself and do what you need to so you can remember that this will not break you.
Key Lesson: What you can control is you. Make your health and wellbeing a priority so you can maintain a healthy mindset.
Further Reading: 5 Mindset Shifts to Ease Divorce Trauma
These are all real-world examples of what others have wondered prior to their divorce, and even some during their divorce, so please know you are not alone. As one person said, “Before my divorce, I wish I knew how much happier I would be!” At the end of the day, it will sting for a bit, but there is hope and happiness on the other side!