No one enters into a marriage expecting to be single again in a few years. That being said, more than 50% of marriages today end in divorce, so it’s a good idea to have some general legal knowledge. Navigating a divorce is almost never painless, but with some sage advice you can avoid making decisions that you will regret for years to come.
Think with your head, not with your heart.
Divorce is a very emotional process. It’s difficult to separate the hurt and disappointment from the dry and emotionless process of looking after your future, but it’s important to do just that. You don’t want to destroy this person out of spite, but you also don’t want to let sentiment or nostalgia lead you into giving this person something that, in the cold light of day, you will regret. Remember, a divorce settlement if usually final. If, for instance, you have spent years with someone who has earned a military retirement, you are usually entitled to half of that retirement income. If, out of a sense of nostalgia, you decide not to ask for this entitlement, you cannot change your mind later. What’s done is done. If you’re considering a divorce, know your rights. Also, know your children’s rights. If child support is going to be a factor in your divorce, be aware of how much child support your children are entitled to. You don’t want to impoverish your ex, but remember this money is not for you—it is for your children. Also, unless your ex’s circumstances (or yours) change significantly, the settlement you reach now will stay in place until the children are eighteen years old. Plan accordingly.
Get it in writing.
If you subtract emotion from the equation, a divorce agreement is basically a long-term contract. Treat it as such. Don’t assume anything. If there is a special consideration that you want in the divorce, you must get it in writing for it to take place. This is especially true if you have children. Don’t let your divorce lawyer put general child visitation language in the court documents. Get specific language that will cover all custody contingencies. You may have a fine relationship with your ex now, but how about ten years from now? What if you get remarried? What if your ex gets remarried? What if one of you wants to move from the area? Once again, remember that this agreement will probably be in force for years to come.
Keep your mouth shut.
People going through a divorce are often hurt and angry, but if there are children involved, you want to make sure that you don’t say anything in front of your children that will be embarrassing for you later. Don’t bad mouth your ex, no matter how much you think this person deserves it. It will only hurt your children and reflect poorly upon you. If both parties act like adults, the children (and the neighborhood!) will be better equipped to navigate this painful process. Even if your ex acts badly, take the high road. It may be difficult to hold your tongue when the other party doesn’t, but those around you will remember your dignity later.
Ultimately, when negotiating a divorce, it is important to remember that the pain will diminish over time, but the settlements reached, and the way you choose to carry yourself will be remembered. Try not to let your emotions (whether positive or negative) rule your actions. Five years from now, the feelings you have now will have faded. Focus on the future, not the past. If you plan well and use your head, you will be able to create a future for yourself that you can live with.