Hi, I am Lawyer X T.D. Lewis. I am formerly a NYC divorce attorney. These days, I sometimes act as the editor in chief of this blog and a couple of others and other times I am off “globetrotting.” Usually, I am supposed to be talking about international divorce issues but today, I am going to give you some unsolicited divorce advice and tell you how to “design your divorce” in 10 steps:
1. Come to a final decision: So first you have to come to a final decision and this is not necessarily going to be easy but it has to be done and you have to approach it with pragmatism and courage. Most of all you have to be sure that it is the right time and the right thing for you. So hopefully this is not a spur of the moment thing; you have really taken the time to give it ample thought and you have determined that it is the right move. Once you make that determination, then act with speed and act with resolve to minimize the pain and fall out for everybody involved.
2. Gather all important documents: Once you make your decision and before you even tell your spouse, be sure to gather important documents that you think will be relevant, like bank statements, deeds, police reports, marriage certificates, leases and mortgages, emails & photographs, paystubs, tax returns, credit card statements, retirement accounts, pensions, employee’s manuals, etc.
3. Tell your spouse: It is a good idea to plan the time and place very carefully before you spill the news or make your grand announcement. Think about everything from what you will wear to rehearsing what you will say and how you will say it. Imagine being interrupted and plan how to even manage interruptions. There is no rule that says you have to ask in person, by the way. You can send an email or text message if your particular situation demands distance. Yes, even social media could be used. Could you use an intermediary like a friend or family member? Yes, if your situation demands that. There is no right or wrong way to ask for a divorce. There is only the right way for you. Tell the children (if applicable)
4. Tell family and friends: Children, if they exist, need to be informed of this momentous decision as soon as possible. In some circumstances, they probably already saw the handwriting on the wall and they could even be relieved. But in other circumstances, the children will be shocked, depressed and disemboweled by this announcement. So you need to think about this and maybe if possible in your situation, sit them down together and explain that the family dynamics will change. But that the love you have for them will be the same. Ditto for friends. You are divorcing each other not your kids and not your friends. To the extent possible you would have to so design the split that all the parties understand and believe and see that they are still a vital part of your life and that the end of your marriage does not mean an end to your parenting or to the friendship or to the extended family.
5. Get through the actual legal process of terminating the marriage: The most difficult part will probably be the actual process itself of sorting this thing through the courts and if there are lawyers involved and other court professionals, this could potentially get ugly before it gets pretty. That is why planning and designing in advance is so important because maybe you can even eschew all this and have a more collaborative divorce rather than contentious and adversarial. That is not always possible though but it is possible to mitigate the potential damage with good planning, good anticipation and good comebacks. In other words, create and design your divorce don’t react to the divorce. Got it? Design it don’t react to it. And then this becomes your new life where you “create a life of design not a life of reaction,” as David McGraw says on his beautiful motivational tapes which you can find on YouTube.
6. Create a new home: You will need a new home after your divorce and it will be different from living together with someone else. Sometimes it will be a significant change especially if you are going from a high income situation where your spouse was the main breadwinner to someone with durational alimony who does not have a job and has not worked in a while. It is not just the money, though. The change in living space is spiritual and it is spatial and it is design and it is location so much more. It will be a big change and you should think about it carefully and design a new life and home with your own needs and desires in mind as well as the practicality for children if you have them and also proximity to your ex since you will be co-parenting. Think about everything such as the color of your walls, the size of the place, the neighborhood, the decor, the furnishings and dishes and housewares you want (are you going to just transfer over stuff from your marital home or are you going to get rid of all that and raid IKEA for new stuff?), will you have plants and a garden? What about pets? Is it going to be a house or apartment? In the city or suburbs? So many things to consider but this can actually be exciting because you can keep yourself busy sorting out the details.
7. Plan your money future: It is important to also plan your finances and your focus will probably shift when you are thinking “single” and not “couple.” Things such as your age at the time of your divorce will matter but so too will your divorce settlement itself. How much you get and for how long are very important things to weigh so that you know what your savings and investment plans should look like in order to safeguard your future. The concerns of women and men – even if they are the same age – can be very different in terms of planning for the future and planning for retirement.
8. Plan how you will solo parent: After your divorce you will be a solo parent in a certain way even if technically most people will co-parent their children. My sense is that people don’t even think about this. They just make it up as they go along and they hope for the best. This is a strategy and it works out in the end for most people, I am sure. But what if you actually sat down and made a plan of how you are going to do this and what are the things you want to achieve with your child and as a parent and how will your solo-parenting jibe with co-parenting for the betterment of the children and how much time will you spend with your child each day and what types of holidays will you take and where and when? And what is the relationship you will have with caregivers and teachers? And what are your weekly, monthly and annual goals for your child(ren)?
9. Create a dating plan: Dating will probably be a part of your future again unless you decide you’re done with it – which is fine. But if you are not done with it you will have to sort out how this is going to go. Where, When, How, Who, Why, How much? These are all considerations when you embark on this new love journey. People – especially those in relationships – will tell you just leave it to chance and love will find you. They are lying. They did not leave it to chance. Not really. Everyone in a relationship did something to attract and cultivate that relationship whether consciously or unconsciously. Do yourself a favor and if you want a new relationship, design and create it.
10. Self and Health Care: Believe it or not, your post-divorce care of self is a part of, an outshoot of the divorce itself. Sometimes, you would have been ravaged by this marriage and/or the divorce process for any number of reasons and the appropriate self caring that needs to follow is for you to decide. Whatever the state of your mind and body after this marriage and divorce, only you can begin the process of fixing it and healing yourself. It is easy to pop pills and drink alcohol and take body-contaminating drugs in an effort to feel better fast. But a properly designed system of self and health care will give you longer lasting results. It is about diet and exercise and meditation and relaxation and laughter and all of those little things that over time will make a difference. But it takes planning and writing things down and looking at the long game. Yes, short term quick little fixes can also serve their purpose – depending on what it is. But caring for oneself is a life journey and it does take careful planning just like anything else.
I have also written The Ultimate Divorce To-Do List which you can find here.