Check out the desk of a family law attorney and you're likely to see a box of tissues positioned on the client's side of the desktop. During the early stages of the divorce proceedings, the tissue box gets plenty of use. Clients who are consulting with counsel about the legal issues in their divorce often well up with tears and apologetically explain that they are sleep deprived, unable to concentrate and completely overwhelmed by the divorce process. Many of these clients ultimately find strength and support by participating in counseling during the divorce. That said, since divorce-related anxiety has its own pattern and predictability, I offer the following practical tips to avoid losing your mind as you navigate the legal process of losing your spouse:
1. Separate from your spouse before, or as soon as possible, after the divorce filing. Living with your spouse during the divorce is a bit like quitting a job you despise and then continuing to work there for six months. If marital discord has resulted in a divorce filing, it is unlikely that the angel of peace will descend on your household once you've started the dissolution process. It is more likely that the conflict will escalate and one party, usually the husband, will be forced out of the house with a protection order, taking only his toiletry bag and cell phone. In this lawyer's view, until you separate from your spouse, all the weekly massages and therapy sessions in the world aren't going to soothe your soul during the divorce proceeding.
2. Retain an experienced attorney whose style and personality puts you at ease from the first consultation. When you hire an attorney for your divorce, you are hiring a problem solver. Divorce-related stress is often a legitimate response to a host of parenting or financial problems. Hiring the right attorney to help solve these problems should considerably reduce your anxiety. If you leave the first consultation with doubts about the attorney, go with your gut and interview another one. Keep in mind that the only thing more stressful than arguing with your spouse is arguing with your divorce attorney.
3. Block out a series of two-hour time slots to work on your financial disclosures. While most divorcing spouses have completed homework assignments, loan applications and tax returns, they are often unprepared for the flood of emotions which may arise during the completion of financial forms required for their divorce case. For the spouse who is in denial about the divorce, the financial forms are a cruel reminder that the proceeding is actually underway. For the spouse who has a lesser income and/or a lack of knowledge about the parties' finances, the financial forms can be a terrifying reminder of the spouse's need to assume financial independence from their mate. If you're anxious and emotional when you're filling out the forms, take ownership of the situation and complete them in small intervals. Just like your sixth grade teacher, your divorce lawyer won't accept the excuse that, "My dog ate the Financial Statement."
4. Make a wish list that reflects your priorities in a proposed divorce settlement. Divorcing parties who have children, homes, businesses, pension plans and marital debts are often overwhelmed by the daunting process of untying the bonds of their marital knot. Although financial settlements should be held in abeyance until you've exchanged disclosures, you should commence the divorce proceeding with a basic list of your priorities in resolving these issues. If you have minor children and their well-being is not at the top of your list, make a new list. By identifying and prioritizing the myriad list of issues in your divorce, you will hopefully realize that you're a checklist away from making it to the finish line.
5. Commit to an exercise routine. In the age of social media, divorcing parties often spend way too much time sending nasty text messages or trashing their spouse on Facebook. If you're stressed about the divorce and angry with your mate, take your marital rage to the park or the gym and turn it into a high energy calorie burn. For the jilted spouse who enjoys working out to music, I recommend downloading Gloria Gaynor's, "I Will Survive" and playing it on repeat mode.
Although the foregoing tips are designed to alleviate your divorce-related anxiety, they are not meant to suggest that divorce can or even should be free of some level of sadness or stress. From this attorney's perspective, sometimes there is simply no replacement for a good cry. Indeed, having specialized in divorce cases for the past thirty years, I am firmly convinced that the most disturbing divorce client is the one who claims to have completed the entire dissolution process without having shed a single tear.
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