So here's the inside scoop. I've been a divorce attorney for 23 years and as a result, every single one of my friends (both actual friends, and Facebook friends) ask me for my advice when they're facing a divorce.
When I have friends who are getting divorced, and they ask me for advice, here's what I tell them. The real deal, the confidential, back-channel skinny. Beyond legal advice, which they can get anywhere.
These are my top tips for staying out of trouble:
Ignore Legal Smack Talk from Your Spouse: I love that spouses try and give each other legal advice. Really? Since when did your spouse go to law school and become a divorce lawyer? And you're listening? Heck, even if they're dishing out good advice, it pays to double check.
Question "My Friend Said": If your spouse talks about friends' divorces or what the lawyer plans on doing to you legally, ask:
• How many years did that friend's divorce take?
• How much did it cost?
• How much did your lawyer say that taking me to the cleaners would cost in legal fees?
• Is your lawyer willing to put it in writing that they guaranteed that their result will be better than what I'm prepared to offer voluntarily?
You're safe with that last one---no lawyer would guarantee anything or put fees in writing so this will force your spouse to have an honest discussion with the lawyer about the pros and cons of pursuing any given action.
Watch Out For Non-Monetary Games: Keep an eye out for your spouse manipulating the kids. Make sure your bond with them remains strong. Don't bad-mouth your spouse---your kids will figure that out later and hate you, so keep the long term in mind.
Your spouse may think he or she is plotting and being strategic like some sort of Divorce 007. But at the end of the day, it's a business deal and a parenting plan. It is what it is. So don't let your imagination run away with you.
You can keep costs (and suspicion, and plotting) down by:
1. Being organized. Make a notebook with labeled dividers with all of the financial records (recent ones, at least) and tax returns (as many as you have copies of), a comparative market analysis (free from any realtor) of the value of your house, your most recent pay stub...and ideally you'll make your spouse a notebook, too.
I know that might sound crazy (making your adversary a notebook) but your spouse's attorney will charge for making a notebook and getting the records together (which could run up the bill by several thousand dollars) so if you can take the wind out of those sails from the get go (your spouse is entitled to all that info pursuant to law anyway) and all of the mystery out of your financial situation, you're ahead of the game.
Don't get paralyzed by your emotions. It's easy to sit down with a hole punch and a notebook and put stuff in by date. You don't need all your faculties to do that, so it's a good activity for when you're feeling lost.
2. Staying Sane. Make appointments with your therapist, make time for your kids (and don't talk about your spouse), play golf or ride bikes (ideally with your kids), make time with friends. Take care of yourself. Eat right and work out.
3. Don't taking the bait: Your spouse will say stuff to you just to get you riled up. Ignore it. "Obviously, this is a hot topic for both of us, so I'm not going to respond at this point. I do hope we can work all of this out, though, at some point." Then change the subject. Say that as many times as you have to.
Eventually, your spouse will get bored when it's clear you aren't going to fight back. This will freak your spouse out a little, particularly at first, so feel free to chuckle. When you start to behave differently than you have over the last eleventy-million years they're going to wonder what's up and watching that might be a little amusing as the old tricks don't work on you anymore.
4. Find that Special Someone--Quietly: If you decide you want to date or get laid, don't let anyone find out about it. Not under any circumstances. Your spouse will go bananas if you're with someone else, so avoid that at all costs. It doesn't matter if it's your spouse who suggested the divorce or found a new lover first. They still go nuts when they see you've moved on, too. I'm not saying don't do it. I'm saying don't let anyone find out.
Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation and community on our video blog and check out Diana's divorce blog on the Huffington Post