On "Good Morning America," they recently featured a story about foolish mistakes people make when following the guidance of a GPS (Global Positioning System). One driver found the device guiding him from a gravel road into thick mud. The map forgot to show the nine miles of water between the island and the mainland. He tried to get back to solid ground, but as the tide rose, he was forced to abandon his car.
I shook my head wondering why people continue to follow GPS directions when the course they are on is clearly going in the wrong direction. This prompted me to ask the same question about people going through divorce. Why do people listen to the navigation of others when it is not in their best interest?
When it comes to divorce, the acronym GPS stands for General Perceived Standards. This is the way most people think they should go about getting a divorce -- each spouse hires an attorney, the attorneys litigate about everything, and both people fight to win. Naturally, that means there is always a loser.
While historically this has been the standard way people approach divorce, it is no longer the best path for everyone. In fact, mediation is growing in popularity as people discover a less destructive and more cost-effective way to divorce.
When you decide to take action and get your divorce started, your first call should be to a divorce mediator -- not an attorney. Attorneys are trained to litigate, not mediate. Here are four "Dos" to help you determine if mediation is right for you.
Do: Understand What Mediation Does
A common misconception is that the mediation process only completes part of the divorce. Many mediation firms, like The Divorce Help Clinic™ are full service and can help with filing the divorce petition, serving the other spouse, making decisions on support, dividing finances and debt and hammering out custody and visitation. In addition, they complete the legal documentation, notarize the final Marital Settlement Agreement and file everything with the court. Best of all, the couple never has to go to court.
Do: Question Your Motive
If you let your emotions dictate your divorce ("I'm going to get her back for leaving me" ... "I'm going to take him to the cleaners"), many attorneys will gladly help you achieve your goal. However, you need to decide if the cost (emotionally and financially) is worth it. Sure, this route will hurt your spouse, but it will also damage you in the process.
In mediation, the emotional issues are acknowledged, but the focus is on working together to identify the situation and what's important to everyone concerned. It is the mediator's job to help you talk together directly in a way that gets you to the solutions you need. The mediator guides you and your spouse through a series of step-by-step confidential sessions to resolve issues that might block agreement. There is no game playing or siding with one spouse over the other. It stays on task and gets the job done.
Do: Use Common Sense
You can get into trouble when you blindly follow the General Perceived Standard of divorce. It is not a one size fits all. Just because it is the perceived way of doing things, it does not guarantee a smooth, headache-free ride. Instead, use your common sense in how you proceed.
You'll want to bring more sound judgment to the divorce table. Don't assume your spouse is against mediation; bring up the topic and discuss it. Many mediation firms offer free consultations so take advantage of the opportunity. It's the logical step to take.
Do: Keep It Private
The entire process of mediation is done discreetly and confidentially, and the details of your private information does not become public record. If you don't want busy bodies or employers to read your sordid details, mediation will protect you.
When using attorneys to divorce, private matters (real and false accusations, addictions, abuse, financial information) are displayed in the public court records. For those who try to persuade the court to seal the records, know that recently the courts have been a lot more hard-nosed about not sealing them.
Divorce is not a fun process, but mediation does make it more tolerable and less time-consuming, and people adjust to their new lives more quickly. Using the old-school, attorney-driven route often leads to more misery and expense than people bargained for. The choice is up to you --stick with ignorance and preconceived ideas that may screw you or use the most effective way, in my opinion, to end your marriage.
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more