Did you know that divorce is a process?
di·vorce (dĭ-vôrs′, -vōrs′) n. the legal dissolution of a marriage; v. to sever the marital relationship with a spouse by a judgment or decree of divorce.
If divorce were as straightforward as the dictionary definition, the process would be a whole lot easier. But, the reality is, there are two sides to divorce -- the emotional and the legal.
Couples, children, and extended families could carry on with their lives as if nothing much had changed. The "legal dissolution" could involve collegial discussions in lawyers' boardrooms followed by the signing of papers, a handshake, and best wishes all around. Actually, some lawyers and judges favor the dictionary definition. "Treat your divorce as a business transaction," they urge couples who come to see them. There's a lot of wisdom in this piece of advice, if it is applied to the legal side of divorce. But this view neglects the emotional side of divorce. It's as if they're saying, "Business partnerships . . . marriage partnerships . . . what's the difference?"
Most people who have gone through a divorce -- and most lawyers and judges, too -- will tell you that the dictionary definition captures only one small part of the reality of divorce.
Divorce is an extremely demanding and painful experience riddled with complications.
When divorce isn't tragic, it's at least extremely disappointing. A relationship that was launched in a hopeful wedding ceremony followed by candlelight and the celebratory clinking of glasses has turned into a fire fueled by fear, anger, grief, and guilt.
I know, having gone through divorce myself, that it is both a business transaction (which I certainly didn't realize at the time) and a time of deep emotional distress (which I experienced all too well). And while it would be really nice if the two elements could be handled one after the other -- you could spend a few years dealing with the emotional issues, and then, heart and head clear, go through the legal process -- I also know that emotions and legal processes cannot be clinically separated.
But the ultimate challenge of divorce is precisely this: the legal issues come up at the beginning of the process, when you're least able to deal with them objectively.
Managing the "emotional" and the "legal" divorce
A smart divorce is one in which you accept that:
- Both the emotional and legal sides of divorce are real and valid
- You have to go through both, and pretty much at the same time
- Emotions and the legal process cannot be perfectly sealed off from each other
To get a smart divorce, you have to understand how to keep the "two divorces" -- the emotional divorce and the legal divorce -- as separate as possible. Emotions should be kept out of the legal proceedings as much as possible. Letting your emotions become part of your legal decision-making process will ratchet up your legal costs, cause you to make faulty decisions, prolong the divorce process, and hold everyone back -- yourself included -- from moving on to a rosier future.