Divorce can be a bit like a special club that you never anticipated having access to. That time before divorce is confusing, hurtful, and a host of other emotions. Once you’re on the other side, you truly can see clearly again.
So, if you’re in the fog and not sure what to expect, you’re not alone. Trust me, even with the best of advice and resources, every person who’s going through a divorce is unique and has some level of anxiety about it.
While I don’t recommend listening to just any old advice about divorce, I do recommend seeking out people who have experience with it to guide you, both when speaking candidly with others and when seeking expert support (like a mediator, financial advisor, and so on).
As such, I asked a group of divorced and soon-to-be divorced women, “What do you wish you knew before your divorce?” I got so many responses, I couldn’t fit them into one (or even two!) blog posts!
(Both of my previous posts were full of info about insurance, the process, and future ramifications and things to expect. The first, 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Divorce, is here and the follow up, 5 (More) Things I Wish I Knew Before My Divorce, can be found here.)
I hope this post serves as a final (for now) installment of what to expect before your divorce and you can be even more prepared about what’s to come. After all, the more knowledge of a topic you have, the more rational and logical you can be when approaching these emotionally-charged situations.
One person said, “I wish I fought for more in mediation or took my ex to court. I was worried about costs.”
Some people need more guidance about how hard they should or should not “fight” for things, especially if they are non-negotiables and they’ll help you to thrive post-divorce. The reality is that lots of people throw their hands up and say it isn’t worth it, they’re not going to the trouble to fight for it, and so on. I see this a lot especially in abusive relationships. Many people are just done and walk to walk away and that’s very understandable.
However, what happens during mediation or any court proceedings will greatly affect how you’re setting yourself up for the rest of your life. Making an informed decision whether you should fight for something is critical.
This is why I am a huge advocate for mediation. It gives you the greatest control over the outcome (versus leaving it in the hands of the court) and it allows you to have productive, fruitful conversations.
I have seen that couples with the most animosity and the largest gap between them can have very successful mediations as the tension is greatly reduced and there’s a third party to broker a conversation for them (rather than pointing fingers).
Key Lesson: What happens during the divorce proceedings will greatly affect your ability to support yourself financially and independently post-divorce. Identify what will make the greatest impact for you and use tools like meditation to help you go after it.
Further Reading: The Best Kept Secret of Mediation
On the other side of the coin, some people say, “Fight for everything!” If you want to spend thousands to fight over a toaster, go for it. That said, I heartily disagree with the statement of “Don’t settle! Fight for everything.” At the end of the day, you’re not going to get your way 100% of the time and thinking that you can will waste time and money.
Be prepared with things you must walk away with and know your limits: What must you have or what must you keep (the house, including the toaster?) in order to protect yourself and be able to set yourself up for a strong future?
Along with that, know what isn’t worth fighting over. Perhaps your ex is really into collecting toasters and you decide to let them have that toaster because you know the energy expended being petty about it could be spent better elsewhere. You get the idea.
Key Lesson: Prepare yourself by having a clear idea of what needs you must have met, what you don’t need to worry about, and what you’re willing to negotiate on (along with your good-better-best in terms of negotiation outcomes) so you can thrive after your divorce.
Expenses for your children will have to be discussed, especially if you’re splitting financial and other parenting responsibilities. As I wrote in 5 (More) Things I Wish I Knew Before My Divorce,
“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.”
That is especially true when it comes to things like car insurance, cell phones, and other expenses, as well as being on the same page (or at least in the same book) with expectations, curfews, consequences, and the like.
As with health insurance, it may be up to the primary parent to provide coverage. Or you may wish to tell your child that it is their financial expectation to cover things related to “their” belongings. (I use “their” in quotations because even if you paid for the car, it could be called the child’s vehicle and any related maintenance and legal needs are now their responsibility.)
The reality is that while you may not be wife and husband, you are still mom and dad and there will be conversations related to your children that you need to consider either before your divorce or in a post-divorce mediation session.
Should you choose mediation when you are divorcing, your mediator can help you think of things related to your dependents even if the events (like car insurance or college) are down the road.
Key Lesson: Decide on a plan for things like this ahead of time to avoid conflict and be on the same page as co-parents.
Further Reading: How to Handle Parenting Expenses After Divorce
The legal process and laws vary from state to state. Keep that in mind if you’re asking questions in public forums. Also, keep that in mind as you do research online. Having a professional in place to guide you can help you better understand your rights is empowering.
Being organized and prepared with questions, documents, signed statements, and so on is also very important. Different states require different documents. The most successful clients I’ve had have been the ones who are well-organized.
Key Lesson: Know your rights for your specific state - hire a professional to help you think through all the pieces of your unique situation.
Further Reading: How to Stay Organized During the Divorce Process
I mentioned this at the end of my 5 (More) Things I Wish I Knew Before My Divorce post, but I think it deserves its own special section. It’s true that this time is incredibly stressful. Before my divorce, I spent a lot of time worrying. I now see that it was unnecessary, but I also see that it was part of my process.
I would encourage you not to compare your journey to others. I would also encourage you to feel what you’re feeling in the moment. Don’t try to brush the sad or bad feelings away. They call it the divorce process for a reason - it’s a series of steps and actions and each step introduces new situations and feelings.
There will be a time to move through your emotions and, eventually, you will feel better. Dare I say: You will be much happier than you were before because you’re doing what’s most right for you. Give yourself grace; you’re doing just fine.
Key Lesson: You’re doing what’s best for you - you’re moving toward aligning what you really want with your current reality. If it still feels like a struggle, you’re simply not at the end yet - and that’s okay. You’ll get there and be so much happier because of this whole process.
Further Reading: Dealing With a Breakup: 4 Simple Ways to Be Kind to Yourself
Before your divorce, you don’t know what you don’t know. But, hopefully with expert advice and guidance from those who A) know your current reality and B) can offer a level of empathy to that, you’ll come out on the other side ready to thrive!