Thomas Ferreira here, your expert divorce lawyer and mediator in Carlsbad California. Last week I went over how to gain some calm and equanimity when you are facing divorce. Now it’s time to take a good hard look at what it’s going to take. This blog will help you formulate your escape plan, whether you are leaving or are being dragged into this process involuntarily. I propose these three steps:
STEP ONE: DECIDE IF DIVORCE REALLY YOUR BEST OPTION:
If you are the victim of intolerable cruelty, constant angry attacks or, God forbid, physical abuse, it’s time to get out. Contact your local domestic violence shelter. They have experienced counselors who can help you escape frank abuse.
For the rest of you, I’m not going to judge the reason for the breakup, but I will say that most people have soluble problems. I have written in other contexts that one should always count the costs. Divorce is financially devastating, emotionally painful to you, your spouse, your friends and your extended family, and generally harmful to children. True, children are harmed when marital conflict descends into deep disrespect of the other or violence. But consider the long term effect, and that most marital problems are temporary and soluble. Be sure this is the last resort, because once a divorce announcement is made or a petition filed, it’s nearly impossible to go back.
STEP TWO: HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH YOUR EX:
If divorce is really inevitable, it is vital that you keep the carnage to a minimum. A compassionate conversation with the soon-to-be-ex is important, because of what I call the “trust tax.”
The trust tax is the cost of doing business in a low-trust environment. Consider international disputes that result in warfare. Each nation demonizes the other and feels justified in defeating them by any means possible. Warfare results in mass death and financial ruin.
To prevent a divorce that looks like international warfare, be compassionate, even if you are the left spouse. It helps to understand that the leaving spouse is not a demon out to ruin your happiness. In every divorce there is responsibility on both sides, no matter how minimal, and it helps to own your own part emotionally, even if you don’t express it. You need to see your soon-to-be-ex in human terms.
From the children’s perspective, a high trust co-parenting relationship is vastly superior to a low trust, high-conflict one. If staying together is impossible, you’ll need to be able to cooperate for the sake of the children.
Whn having this conversation, plan to discuss:
- Where are each of you going to live while this gets sorted out.
- What should the temporary parenting schedule be?
- Who will pay which bills?
- What support arrangements are necessary?
- Should we try mediation to resolve all the issues?
STEP THREE: HAVE A FINANCIAL PLAN TO GET THROUGH THE EARLY STAGES:
If you are going to do a “cut and run” divorce, and avoid difficult conversations or mediation, get ready to spend. A litigated divorce with divorce lawyers on each side is going to cost you about $20,000 or more for each party. If you don’t have that kind of dough, see step two above.
I recommend having $3,000 to $5,000 on hand, or a credit card that can be charged in that amount, before initiating the legal process. You’re going to need some professional help down the road even if you file your own petition.
Consider your budget and how you intend to support yourself during the process. Leaving without a plan is a sure formula for disaster.
Before you raid the joint accounts, consider the effect that will have on trust. Remember that the cost of your divorce will be inversely related to the level of trust that you are able to build with your ex.
Hoping this advice helps easy your journey down this rocky path, I urge you to:
Love your family,
Protect your finances, and
Reach for your future!