Divorce: What You Need to Know

Divorce is traumatic and can be one of the worst times in a person's life. The feelings of pain, loss and betrayal can be debilitating. No matter how overwhelming the emotions may be, you need to keep your feet on the ground and stay in control, because your decisions will have a huge impact on your life and that of your family for years to come.

Before considering divorce, marital counseling is a necessary first step. In some cases, marriage counseling may hasten the process by bringing married couples face-to-face with their irreconcilable differences, at other times it might start the process of mending and healing those broken fences. Either way, you owe it to yourself, your spouse, and your children to be sure that ending the marriage is truly necessary and that you have explored all other avenues.

If your marriage is already beyond the breaking point, remember that at the most basic level, marriage is a legal contract. When you entered into your marriage, you and your partner agreed to enter into that contract with several legal stipulations involved. Legally, you may share accounts, debts, and property, unless otherwise stated in a premarital contract. Now that you're entering into the scary and somewhat unknown world of divorce, it's important to take the process slowly and ensure you do things in a manner that's beneficial and respectful of yourself, your family and yes, your partner.

First Step: Talk to Your Family
It's easy to want to hide the truth from your family, especially your children, but you do not want to make the news a surprise for your children or your family. For children, suddenly springing the truth on them may impose more emotional scarring than they can handle. When you do speak to your children, make sure to do the following:

Announce the divorce when both of you are there. Do not explain it to your children alone.

When you speak to your children, avoid casting blame. Make sure you do not cause damage to your children's relationship and respect for their other parent.

Do not be the only one to talk. Give your children a chance to ask questions and be heard. If infidelity is the issue, it may be wise to give other reasons, as this may hurt your soon-to-be ex-spouse in their eyes.

Explain what changes are going to occur, including any issues with custody.

Give your children time to come to terms with the changes.

Second Step: Obtain a Divorce Lawyer
A lawyer is a necessary part of any legal process, and you need one who specializes in divorce. While it's certainly simple just to go it alone by signing papers at the local government building, a qualified lawyer will help smooth out the process and help you navigate the legal challenges. There are other reasons why a divorce lawyer is a good step:

Your state may require one. Some states make obtaining a divorce extremely complicated and very difficult. Just as there are laws governing marriage, all states have laws governing the process. Remember, you are dissolving a legal contract. Many states require legal representation during this process. You can discover the specific rules on this for your state at Divorce Source, a website providing detailed information on divorce.

If children are involved, you will have custody hearings. Custody of the children is typically the most contentious part of a divorce. Custody is determined by a divorce judge and often leans toward some custody sharing. Judges typically award the mother with primary custody rights.

Shared property and accounts will require a skilled lawyer. Almost all marriages have some shared property. Purchases made and income earned after the marriage can be, in many cases, considered "shared property," even when you have separate bank accounts. Unless a legal prenuptial agreement was worked out before signing the marriage contract, anything and everything could be up for grabs. A good lawyer will help you navigate this area.

If you worked out a prenuptial agreement, you would need a lawyer to help enact it. Although a prenup is typically spelled out pretty well in writing, there may be a reason to challenge it or amend it before enacting it upon divorce. Your lawyer can help you get the most benefit out of the legal separation and the prenuptial agreement.

Finding a Lawyer
Finding legal representation can be difficult, but these resources can help:

American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

FindLaw Database

American Bar Association Referral Directory

When looking for a good attorney, do not always go for the least expensive one. Make sure to look for a lawyer who has a good track record, good referrals and who has your best interest and your family's best interest at heart. These are good steps to follow:

Investigate the lawyer and value experience over cost.

Ask for references, particularly former clients similar to you. Most good lawyers will be happy to provide them. Make sure you call those references.

If money is a major factor, inquire about cost reductions and payment plans.

Make sure you have a meeting before and a one-on-one, heart-to-heart talk to get to know him or her before closing a deal.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact your state legal aid office or your local bar association, which may be able to connect you to attorneys who provide pro bono services to needy clients.

Things to Avoid
Emotions run high during the divorce process, and they can lead you to serious mistakes. Some pitfalls to avoid:

Do not allow addictive behaviors to take over. You may be tempted to turn to different places to ease the pain, and it's easy to fall prey to addictions during this time. Avoid abusing substances, as this can lead to greater problems down the road.

Avoid fighting in front of your children and family. The angry feelings are ok. They're normal and acceptable, but you need to avoid allowing the anger to spill over into your home life. If your children see you arguing with your spouse, this can cause irreparable harm and extreme stress. Remember that your actions and approach are shaping your children's attitudes toward relationships.

Try to avoid completely destroying your relationship with your ex. This can be a very difficult thing to do, but it is important. Aside from the emotional toll anger and hate impose on you and your children, there are practical reasons for not burning bridges. The more you and your ex can agree on basic terms, the less complicated and expensive the process will be. If you have children and shared custody is the outcome, you and your ex will need to communicate and work out day to day details. If you can deal with each other productively this process will be much easier and less painful.

Avoid staying in the house to "keep up appearances" - if it is causing more problems. If you can't avoid getting into arguments around your children, it may be best for either you or your spouse to move out during this time. Make sure this happens after you have discussed the situation with your children.

No one goes into a marriage expecting it to end, and few people end a marriage without significant pain and struggle. However, you can work through the process as seamlessly as possible by keeping emotions in check, finding a good lawyer, and including your family in the process from start to finish.