PLANNING FOR DIVORCE
by Faith Jansen, J.D., Divorce Mediation and Settlement Negotiation Attorney
Divorce is not something to rush into without advance planning. If you are contemplating divorce, consider the following resources:
Individual Counseling - A licensed psychotherapist can help you sort out whether the unhappiness you feel is caused by marital dynamics or something else. If the cause is marital dynamics, the therapist can help you decide whether or not you want to work on reconciliation. When it is known for sure that there is going to be a divorce, the therapist can provide psychological support to you individually outside of the legal divorce process.
Couple’s Counseling - Communication skills learned in couple’s counseling carry over into amicable divorce negotiations such as mediation, cooperative divorce, or collaborative divorce. You do not have to be interested in reconciliation to benefit from couple’s counseling. It takes courage to ask your spouse to go to couple’s counseling with you and to reveal that the goal of counseling in your mind is to prepare for a divorce rather than to save the marriage. Be prepared to honestly tell your spouse whether your counseling goal will be reconciliation or preparation for divorce. If you have not firmly made up your mind to divorce but want to address the possibility in couple’s counseling, then tell the therapist that you want “discernment counseling”.
Vocational Counseling - If you have not been in the work force for a while, either due to being laid off from your job or to a homemaking arrangement developed during the marriage, you may be expected to start working full-time once a divorce begins. For more information concerning the legal expectation of full employment for both spouses, set up a legal consultation with a lawyer. For guidance in developing career goals, brushing up on your work skills, and looking for work, you should see a vocational counselor. Some vocational counselors also work as forensic witnesses for court cases. Information gathered in the vocational counseling might later be admissible in court. The best way to deal with this possibility is to choose a vocational evaluator who has a reputation for being neutral.
Legal Consultation - In a confidential consultation with a lawyer you can learn what are the best case and worst case scenarios for the outcome of your divorce case. Legal advice will help you overcome your fear of the unknown and develop a vision of your future. You may find out that you have rights you did not know about; Or you may find out that you have unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations on the part of either party to a divorce will cause both sides to incur unnecessary attorneys fees. It is a good idea to interview more than one lawyer and compare the advice you get. A lawyer will also give you practical tips such as how to gather and copy important documents before starting the divorce. Last but not least, a lawyer can help you select what type of process is most suitable for your divorce case. Process options range from the most adversarial (litigation) to the most amicable (mediation). Litigation is an appropriate process if you cannot trust your spouse to be honest with information or to be fair and reasonable in negotiation. Mediation is an appropriate process if you and your spouse will be able to cooperatively gather information and work with the mediator to clarify the facts and communicate calmly to reach a fair and reasonable agreement. A lawyer with a background in all options will be able to assist you in assessing which is the least adversarial process that protects your interests and meets your needs.
Other Experts: After your legal consultation, you may decide that you need to see a tax adviser, a financial planner, a property appraiser, or other type of expert. If you are working with an attorney or a mediator, he or she will be able to coordinate the consultation with such experts in a manner that works with the legal process being used for the divorce.
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury & Bruce Patton (First published in 1981 and updated with several more recent editions)