Choosing a Divorce Process: What Are the Decision Criteria for Getting a Divorce?

The complexities of a divorce case depend on a variety of factors, including how long you were married, the residency requirement laws in your state, whether you have children together, own a home together, have significant differences in your income, are self-employed, unemployed, or have debt or joint assets.

If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is! Don’t worry, TruNorth Divorce is here to help you decode divorce. Your first major decision in divorce is choosing the right divorce process and team of professionals for your divorce. In our previous post we outlined six alternative processes:

  • DIY
  • Mediation
  • Negotiated representation
  • Litigation
  • Arbitration
  • Collaborative divorce

This article addresses the criteria/questions you need to ask in order to choose one of these processes.

What are the Decision Criteria for Choosing a Divorce Process?

  • Presence or history of physical or significant emotional abuse.
    • If this is an issue, hire an attorney. 
  • The complexity of marital assets; do you share property, retirement accounts, or other financial assets together? 
    • If you share assets, rule out a DIY divorce. The mistakes you are likely to make will cost you far more than the expense associated with professional assistance. Settlement agreements are a one-shot deal and can’t be revisited after the divorce.
  • Presence of minor children; the process of divorce can be more complex when separating with children. 
    • Here again, a DIY divorce should be off the table. Unless you are in full agreement on parenting time, responsibility for important decisions affecting your children, expenses, relocation, etc., you need help developing a comprehensive parenting plan. This can be accomplished in mediation or an attorney-lead process.
  • Whether one spouse will actively or passively resist or stall the divorce beyond an acceptable waiting period.
    • You’ll need an attorney to establish a firm date of separation or get the divorce process started. Don’t, though, get sucked into litigating your divorce in court. Ask the attorneys you’re considering what percentage of their cases are settled out of court. If attorneys are required, negotiated representation is going to be less expensive than litigation. Also, you may still be able to mediate specific issues around custody, support, and division of marital assets and limit the attorney’s role to handling the legal process and those issues you aren’t going to be able to compromise on.
  • Do you already know your spouse and you will not agree to a settlement of financial issues and/or custody? 
    • Being amicable with your spouse is not necessarily a requirement for mediation but negotiation is. It takes two to negotiate a settlement, and the ability and willingness to do so is the number one requirement for whether mediation can be successful. If you or your spouse will resist the divorce or have demands that can’t be met in compromise, you’ll need the assistance of an attorney. 
  • Amount of money and time you’re willing to spend on the divorce; Know your full financial picture before you begin, as the cost of divorce, as well as scheduling time off work for meetings, can far exceed your original expectations.
    • Attorney-lead processes and, especially litigation, can get expensive fast. How much is it worth to you to avoid a contentious battle that may cost tens of thousands or more? Is what you aren’t willing to compromise on worth the extra attorney fees and emotional cost?
  • Your court’s backlog of cases; due to the pandemic your local court may be bogged down by cases and take much longer than typical divorce litigations.
    • Even if you think your case might need to be litigated, you may want to consider arbitration and avoid the cost, time, and lack of confidentiality issues that come with a court-driven process.
  • Your need for privacy: do you want to keep the details of your divorce and finances away from public access? 
    • If you want privacy, you need to keep your divorce outside of the court process, i.e., don’t litigate
  • The intensity of and ability to manage anger or grief; divorce causes varying emotional states to arise that range from anger to lowered self-esteem, to resentment and depression. How able are you to handle a contentious process–are you prepared to handle the toll of stress that arises from confrontation with your former spouse? 
    • Consider your emotional health and the impact it might have on your well-being, job, parenting, and more. It is another cost that needs to be factored into your decision on the divorce process. Attorney-lead processes are almost always contentious. You might consider a collaborative divorce (not necessarily Collaborative Law), that provides the assistance of mental health or other professionals on the team
  • Ability to express your needs to one another and be heard; this is a key skill in making the divorce cost as little time and money as possible. 
    • Being able to negotiate and compromise requires good communication skills. A good mediator can assist you with this but if it’s a “my way or the highway” situation, seek an attorney.

I hope that decrypts some of the confusion over what you should consider as you decide which divorce process works best for you. If you’re looking for more divorce guidance, please click over to my free eBook, 7 Things to Do Before You Divorce. Otherwise, schedule your TruNorth Divorce complimentary strategy session today.

Building Your Divorce Team: Role of the Therapist

In the inaugural piece that launched the Divorce is Not for Sissies series of blogs, I shared with you that divorce is going to be a difficult and potentially traumatic event in your life, affecting every element of your being. So, how can you champion the divorce process to minimize its adverse consequences? 

The first step is to build your divorce team.

You may think the most important professional for your divorce is your lawyer. WRONG. Your attorney is not going to provide emotional support, help you figure out how you got here, give you guidance on your financial future or help you determine the optimal settlement, provide information and assistance on being an effective parent to your children, help you sell your home or refinance your mortgage so you can keep your home. Your lawyer, should you choose to work with one, will charge you over $300 per hour and that will quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Lawyers are trained in the law, period and most only focus on “winning” cases in court. Seeking an attorney’s guidance for anything other than filing paperwork through the court system or preparing for hearings or trial is just throwing money away needlessly. Even if your divorce isn’t ultimately resolved in the courts by a judge (or equivalent), represented negotiation involves your attorney talking to you, your spouse’s attorney talking to him or her and then for them to talk to each other to then come back to talk to you about what they talked about. No joke. And then you spent $50,000 or more so you could get to a settlement that could have been competently worked through for much, much less, resulting in an outcome that would have left you better off both financially and emotionally?

As you prepare for or respond to a request for divorce, think about the myriad of ways your life is going to be impacted.

Let’s start with emotionally and psychologically. If you can’t deal with your thoughts, feelings and emotions, how well do you think you’re going to do managing every other aspect of your divorce—legal, financial, social, parenting, and more? You may be anxious, confused, depressed, feel guilt and remorse, be conflicted, confused, overwhelmed, may question everything, including your own sanity and ability to function. You may be thinking—isn’t that what family and friends are for? They are, of course, a key component to getting you through all of this, but they will not be able to provide you with the objective and expert assistance that a trained therapist can provide. Also, your friends and family are going to get sick of your story and woes. Yes, they are concerned and want to support you, but If you want to maintain these relationships, don’t overly burden them with your misery.

A trained therapist who focuses on separation and divorce is your best resource for dealing with the pain of divorce.

She will understand what kind of support is needed during separation and divorce and bring to the surface the underlying fears and worries that are holding you back so you can effectively address them. A good therapist can help you process your grief, create strategies for maintaining your emotional heath, examine what led to the end of your marriage, and give you the confidence you need to find a new, healthier relationship. Part of the healing process is to create a new vision for your future and a therapist can help you explore the possibilities and create a plan to realize your goals.

How do you find a good a good therapist?

You can search the Psychology Today Directory, ask friends and family, your marriage counselor, or your primary care physician for recommendations, and attend divorce support groups and educational events. MeetUp and Eventbrite are great sources for these kinds of groups and events. Vesta Divorce can also be a great resource and their divorce concierge may have recommendations for you.  Once you’ve identified a few potential therapists, meet with several before selecting the one you want to work with. Many will do a complimentary phone or Zoom consultation.

You won’t regret having sought the support of a trained therapist who specializes in separation and divorce but you may very well regret the pain and struggle that you endured without one.