Most divorces are difficult and emotionally draining. The legal term for divorce is “dissolution;” your marital relationship is dissolved.
Divorce marks the end of a relationship, the death of something that began with love and commitment. Most people expect, or hope, their marriage will last a lifetime. If the marriage falters, most people want to fix it, not end it.
When a marriage collapses, friends and family get involved, to support you, and often validate your disappointment, anxiety, anger, and fear. If you are going through a divorce, you need emotional support, to reach out to friends and family, as well as therapists, ministers, rabbis, or other professionals who may help you deal with raw, overwhelming feelings. Work with these people to process your emotions. Let them help you move forward when your world has changed.
You may experience the same stages of grief and loss people feel when someone dies: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Rely on the people who know you best to handle your emotions because you have to make the most important financial decisions of your life: how to divide your property, how to pay your bills, how to survive when your costs are increasing, how to set up your financial future.
If you have children, you have to determine how to support them, and how to divide your time with them. And you have to make those decisions with someone you are divorcing. These choices require pragmatism, but they are complicated by the emotions you’re feeling.
Some lawyers may prey on these emotions, or try to aggravate them to make you feel better, to make you feel righteous. They will attack your spouse, and tell you they can win the case. What they do not tell you is the rules for deciding the issues in a divorce are pretty clear cut, and courts are required to follow those rules.
Community property – the money, real property, and personal property acquired by both of you during marriage – belongs equally to both of you, and will be divided 50-50. Spousal support (alimony) will be based on the earnings of both spouses over the last three to five years, and determined by 14 specific factors identified by the Legislature. Child support is calculated by a mathematical formula based on your incomes and your time with the children. In most cases, parents will share equal time with the children, because it is in the children’s best interest (unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as violence or substance abuse).
Raising the level of emotion in a divorce also raises the conflict level. It is difficult to make the important decisions you have to make when you are told the other person is horrible, is trying to hurt you, is an idiot. You may feel those raw emotions, but if you make decisions based on those emotions – rather than the law and the facts – you and your lawyer will spend more time in court. Which usually means paying more money to your attorney, and leaving the decision-making to a judge who does not know the full story about you, your spouse, your finances, and your children.
Most judges, including judges in family law courts, have exceedingly large caseloads. They often conduct morning or afternoon hearings in which they have to decide ten, fifteen, twenty, or more cases, with different attorneys, different issues, and different facts. It’s impossible to get it right every time, no matter how hard the judge works.
During a divorce, the standard of living decreases for both sides, usually for two to five years, and sometimes longer. Your expenses are increasing because there are two households with bills, not one, and your income is not increasing as much as your expenses are. In a divorce, the more you pay for attorneys, the less money you have for yourself (and your children).
If you live in an area with high housing costs, such as the Bay Area, the financial pain of divorce can be exponential. It may force you to move somewhere else, more affordable, but hard to do when you have children.
Because of the certainty that your expenses will increase significantly at a time when money is tight, you should do what you can to reduce the level of conflict in a divorce, or hire an attorney who will do so. Attorneys can, and should, fight for you and for the best result possible. But creating conflicts that increase your costs, when you can least afford those costs, will hurt you financially.
In addition, if there are issues involving the children, conflict will hurt them much more than it hurts the parents. Children tend to blame themselves for a divorce. They do not understand why their parents cannot stay together. If one parent insults or denigrates the other parent in front of the children, it is like a kick in the stomach. They love, and want to love, both parents. If they are made to feel it’s a betrayal of one parent to love the other parent, they will be emotionally damaged for a long period of time.
For these reasons, attorneys should do what they can to minimize the emotions in a divorce. Try to reach agreement on issues without going to court. Bring in a mediator if needed. Work to resolve the financial issues for both sides. Focus on the future and how to survive those first few years after divorce.
Make sure your children also have the emotional support they need during divorce. Listen to them, communicate, assure them that both parents love and support them.
Better decisions can be made when you think clearly. Hatred and anger make it difficult to think clearly. Finding a way to communicate and resolve the issues will give you, and your children, a better future.
Not all issues in a divorce can be resolved by agreement. If you cannot resolve an issue, a judge will decide it. But if you minimize the emotional conflict, you also minimize the cost and the pain of divorce. Your attorney should help you build your road to a future life without your spouse, not burn the bridges of your former life.