The most important thing to remember if you’re going through a divorce, says attorney James T. Cook, of Berkowitz, Cook, Gondring & Driskell, is that a rollercoaster of emotions—denial, anger, sadness, fear—comes with it. Accept that this is part of the process and be assured that it won’t last forever.
“Most women will seek emotional support: therapy, counseling, church, support groups. Most guys won’t,” says Cook, who’s been practicing family law in Missouri for 36 years. “People just don’t know how long that journey’s going to take and what they’re in for emotionally because their whole world’s turned upside down.”
Divorce, no matter how amicable, is never easy, but there are ways to ease the burden.
Find the right lawyer
Look for experience, reputation and a communication style that suits yours. Interview at least two attorneys and find one you’re comfortable with—you’ll be discussing some of the most intimate details of your life. Ask lots of questions: How long does it take her to return phone calls and emails? Is he prepared to go to trial if necessary? Is she familiar with the opposing counsel or judge? How long has he been practicing?
“This is oftentimes the most important decision you will have to make, and it is no different than getting a serious diagnosis from a doctor,” says Tiffany A. McFarland, of McDowell, Rice, Smith & Buchanan. “You want a second opinion.”
Adds Cook, “You’re putting your whole life in my hands, and you want to make darn sure I’m the right guy.”
Understand your finances
Copy important documents, such as bank and investment statements, and fully disclose all assets and debts. Attorneys says it’s difficult to predict your financial future if you don’t know what you own.
Set realistic expectations
Know that your standard of living may change. “A lot of people just don’t understand that when you’re separating from another person, that means you can’t rely on them anymore for financial support,” says Rachel C. Whitsitt, an attorney at Whitsitt & Whitsitt. “You can’t rely on using their credit cards anymore.”
Consider mediation instead of court
If you settle financial and child custody matters outside the courtroom, many attorneys say you are more likely to get what you want. “You may not be happy with everything, but if you leave it all in the hands of a judge, you may not be happy with anything because he doesn’t know you,” says Cook, who adds that fighting over every little detail in an effort to hurt your spouse is unproductive; your divorce needn’t be a vendetta.
“It makes no sense to pay your attorney for the extra work required [if] you do not complete forms or provide documents," says Ann E. Bauer, of the Center for Family Law in St. Louis. "It may help to provide a written document to outline the important points on a particular issue."
There can be such a thing as a relatively painless divorce, but both parties must be willing to compromise. Ideally, says McFarland, “The attorney’s role is more of a scrivener in drafting the final agreements. Even if you have contested issues, a divorce can go smoothly if you have clients who listen to their attorneys and respect the other side.”