Thursday, May 08, 2008

The REAL Story - from Someone Who Survived the Divorce Process

What is a divorce really like? I can only speak from a lawyer's perspective. So, I posed some questions to a long time client - so she could share her wisdom and experience. I remember when this woman first retained me - she was devastated by the breakdown of her marriage and terrified as to how it would affect her young children. I promised her that things would get better -- that there would be tough times - but she would feel better.

She has not only survived -- but thrived -- and here are her answers to my questions:

1. What surprised you most about the divorce process?

The divorce process continues to be surprising – even years later. When children are involved, it never really ends.

2. Is there any one thing that, had you known it prior to getting involved in divorce litigation, would have made the process easier?

I think it is important to realize that law is based on prior cases and precedent, not on what seems “fair” or “just.” By the time a couple divorces, each has a bagful of perceived wrongs and injustices and it’s important to understand that the divorce process is not going to resolve any of those for you.
Ending your marriage and moving on with your life is the best way to deal with those.

As much as it feels unfair to me that I have to pay court costs when my ex screws up, even though my agreement reads that he should pay (for one example in a bundle I could cite), that is how the law works at this time. Allow your lawyer to do his or her job. They know the law.

3. What was the worst aspect of the divorce case?

I think the very worst part about divorce is simply fear of the unknown. What will this process and the change in “family” do to the children? What does this mean for family finances? Will I be able to live in the same place and if I move, is that going to further disrupt the children’s emotional and social lives? What am I going to do about work; how am I going to get money, or
make up the savings for retirement that I’ve lost or find healthcare coverage, or…. On and on.

Suddenly the things you thought you knew, that you thought you had planned out over the course of your lifetime – none of those things are true anymore.

The other would be the perception that you have lost control of your life. That’s true to a certain extent – but it’s better to focus on the areas where you still have control and just let the other part slide otherwise you will drive yourself crazy. Focus on the best interests of the children and creating your new life and let the rest of it go.

4. Describe a significant feeling or emotion that affected you during the process.

The loss of independence. Suddenly a court is making decisions that affect your life and your children and the most important thing for people to understand about that is that the decisions are based on law and precedent, not a layperson’s idea of “fair.”

You may have a piece of paper that says something, but it doesn’t mean that any of it will work out the way you anticipated when that paper was signed. A judge may look at that piece of paper but the final decision will be based on all the decisions on the issue that have come before. It may seem terribly wrong to you, but it is how our system functions.

5. Do you have any tips for someone who is just getting involved in a divorce case?

In terms of the legal process, choose a lawyer that you feel comfortable talking to, that you have confidence in and feel you can trust. This is a trying and emotional time and you want your attentions to be on your case, not on where you stand with your lawyer. Emotions are going to run high and you need to be able to listen to advice and trust it, not act from an unreasonable

In terms of one’s self, my number one suggestion for anyone going through a divorce is to seek out therapy – an objective person you can talk to about anything and everything that is on your mind. For me, divorce felt as though someone had just outlawed gravity. The world turned upside down. A therapist will be your cheerleader on dark days. They will teach you useful communication techniques that can help your post-divorce communication with your ex be productive instead of destructive. My family couldn’t be supportive and a therapist was there for me when I just needed to get out frustration and emotion.

When you need to make big life changes, a therapist can help you break it down into manageable steps and help guide you through the process of starting over again. If the children are having a difficult time and acting up, a therapist can give you guidance and help figure out what steps to take. Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, your self-esteem may be at an all-time low, or you may be suffering from depression and not realize it – a therapist can be a huge help in getting you back to being yourself. A therapist has seen it all and you’ll learn that much of what you’re going through emotionally is actually quite common – sort of like those steps in the grieving process. Somehow knowing that eases the pain a little.

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A special thank you to my client for sharing her thoughts.

1 comment:

Aggie said...

decisions are based on law and precedent, not a layperson’s idea of “fair.”

that statement crystalizes the confusing and foreign legal process.

Understadning that process gives me more sense of control in what seems like an out of control situation, and reduces my anxieties about possible outcomes if I can talk to my lawyer about outcomes on similar cases or situation.

But attorneys need to realize that they need to repete themselves in order for the client to understand the process. Learning and processing of information is very impaired in emotionally threatening situations. At times you may feel frustrated with your clients because they don't seem to be listening to what you're saying. If you gain their trust, confidence, teach them, reshape their preconceived notions of the legal process, you will gain a partner in the battle.

Linda, you're the best. I trust you, I feel confident with you representing me. Thanks for your patience, persistence, understanding, and support.