What To Expect During The Divorce Process
Updated November 14, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Amy Brown
Divorce can be a challenging experience for all involved, no matter what the reason for divorce is. There are typically emotional, logistical, and legal issues that people face when going through a divorce. Each individual is unique, as is each couple, so the divorce process will likely be unique to your situation. However, having a general idea of what to expect can be helpful while navigating divorce.
Logistical Issues To Consider Upon Agreeing To Divorce
When beginning the divorce process, some important issues to consider upfront include:
- Understanding the laws in your state. Divorce and separation laws vary from state to state, so it’s important to understand that the legal proceedings of the divorce process will need to align with what your state allows and requires.
- Deciding if you need to hire an attorney and looking into whether you might resolve the divorce without one and a trial. You might, for example, be able to agree with the help of a mediator. (A judge will still need to declare divorce to be final. How this occurs depends on the state you live in.) Among legal issues to consider are alimony, spousal support, division of property and debt, and custody and child support if you have children under 18.
- Preparing for a parenting agreement if you have children who are under 18.
- Deciding on living arrangements.
- Having access to financial records and marriage documents.
- Taking steps to separate other aspects of your lives, such as bank accounts, insurance, passwords, and more.
What Is Mediation?
Mediation is when both parties meet with a trained mediator or a neutral third party who is an expert in mediating divorce settlements. The mediator talks with both parties and helps them discuss and resolve issues regarding the divorce, such as finances, property division, alimony/spousal support, and custody and visitation with any children who are minors.
Mediators do not offer legal advice or make decisions. They generally help facilitate the couple’s communication and help them try to determine what will work best for their situation. Many mediators will draft a divorce settlement agreement to file with a court if an agreement is established through mediation. You may still seek legal advice from a lawyer if you choose mediation.
Benefits of mediation can include:
- Confidentiality: There is usually no public record of what takes place during mediation.
- Cost: Mediation can be much less expensive than a trial.
- Control: The couple controls the process rather than the court issuing mandates. You may also be able to come to a resolution based on what you both believe is fair rather than having an agreement imposed by a court.
- Communication: Mediation can help with communication between the spouses. That can be a healthy step towards avoiding conflict if future interactions are necessary.
Mediation may not be the best option in certain cases:
- Mistrust or deceit is an issue, such as suspecting that a spouse is hiding assets, lying, or not making full disclosures.
- If a spouse is trying to delay proceedings or avoid paying support.
- If a spouse is claiming the other is legally at fault for ending the marriage. (This claim is not legal in some states).
- If the relationship was abusive. If you or a loved one is experiencing or has experienced relationship abuse or domestic violence, please seek help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is free and confidential and offers support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also text “START” to 88788 or use the live chat option on the website at org. The Hotline provides essential tools and support to help survivors of domestic violence live their lives free of abuse.
Finding An Attorney
If you believe it will be in your best interest to hire a lawyer, there are steps you can take to find an attorney who will work well with you:
- Look for a qualified attorney: If you choose to retain a divorce attorney, it is important to look for one who will be a good fit for you and has relevant current credentials. You might ask for referrals from family, friends, or another lawyer. You can check the lawyer’s credentials and look into their background to determine whether you feel confident that they have the experience and expertise to handle your case.
- Ask about cost: Asking an attorney how you’ll be charged, what you’ll be charged for, and at what rates can help you know what to expect financially. For instance, will you need to pay a retainer (a fee upfront)? Will you be charged for each phone call? Will you be charged for interactions with assistants? How much does the attorney estimate you’ll need to pay for the entire divorce proceedings?
- Find an attorney who is a good fit for you: You can consult with an attorney to see if you feel they will meet your needs. Do you feel that they will listen to your concerns? Do they have a strategy for your case that you find agreeable? Do they have an estimate of how long the process will take?
During The Divorce Process, Try To Come Prepared
You may never see more paper produced in your life than what is required for a divorce, especially one contested in a court of law. It can be helpful to get a jump on things so that if your attorney needs certain paperwork, for instance, you can have it ready in an instant. They may need to provide copies of documents to opposing counsel or reference them in a motion being made to the court. Examples of documents that may be needed in a divorce include tax returns, paycheck stubs or proof of monthly income, credit card statements, utility bills, a list of marital assets and debts, and copies of all documents related to checking and savings accounts, as well as retirement information and information related to other investment accounts and properties. It can be wise to gather and copy important documents before you even hire an attorney.
You may also want to prepare yourself for what the process will hold in other areas. You might ask your attorney to help you through this. Asking questions such as the following may be helpful: What should I be prepared for regarding dividing assets and debt? What about any necessary parenting agreements? How about spousal support? What are my options? What does the law say?
Expect The Unexpected In Court
Divorce can be a lengthy process. Many people find it hard to believe that their divorces are not resolved as quickly as they expected. The legal process can be slow and complex at times. You might learn unexpected information during the discovery process (discovering facts about the marriage and the couple). When in court, witnesses may have a testimony you don’t expect. A particular ruling—or aspects of it—may also be unexpected. Your attorney can help you handle the unexpected, and you can feel secure knowing that it is completely acceptable (and can be in your best interest) to ask questions so that you’re prepared for what may occur.
Managing Your Emotions During The Divorce Process
People going through a divorce may experience a range of emotions, such as anger, sadness, grief, and worry. They may question themselves and their role in the marriage. They may experience self-doubt or shame for ending a marriage. They may feel frustrated or confused about marriage and divorce. These emotions are not unexpected when something as significant as a marriage dissolves. There are proactive steps you can take to manage emotions that are often faced during a divorce.
- Be kind to yourself. It’s okay to feel emotions. It’s also okay if you don’t meet certain expectations you might have of yourself. Taking time to heal and regroup can help.
- Connect with others. You might find help from a divorce support group. You might also find support from friends and family. Time with them does not have to be spent discussing divorce. It can be healthy to connect with others just for enjoyment or to listen to what’s going on in their lives.
- Take care of your physical health. Exercise, healthy eating, and regular sleep can help with emotional regulation, refraining from alcohol or drugs.
- Avoid arguments and power struggles with your spouse. If a conversation becomes argumentative, it’s okay to end it and propose that you pick it up later when things have cooled off.
- Focus on positive thoughts and actions. Divorce can be distressing, but focusing on the positive can help. Are there good things happening in your life—even if they’re small? Can you find a way to make something good happen? Can you start a new tradition or get into a new habit of doing something that brings you a bit of joy?
- If you have children, take care to help them with their emotions, too:
- Try to reassure them that the divorce is not their fault.
- Try to listen to their concerns and respond directly and compassionately.
- Try to let your children know that they can rely on you and that you’re dependable. Maintaining stability, routines, and consistency can be particularly important when the home life may be disrupted because of divorce.
- Try to refrain from using children as your sounding board. Your emotions are very important, but it can be difficult and distressing for children to bear their burden.
- Try not to put children in the position to hear about parental conflict or listen to negative talk about the other parent. Their emotional health is vital. If there is a question about whether a child should or should not hear certain information about a parent, seeking input and advice from a licensed mental health professional can be helpful.
Accepting The End Of A Relationship
When a marriage ends, you may experience a range of emotions. For instance, you might feel a sense of failure or that you didn’t succeed in saving the relationship. You may question whether you could have done something differently to save the relationship, or you may feel that you “wasted” years with your spouse. You may also feel like you’ve temporarily lost your sense of self. Not only has your identity as part of a couple changed, but you may also feel like the person you once loved is gone, and now an imposter is walking around wearing their face.
Divorce can feel like the loss of something that, at one time, had so much potential that made the both of you happy and that you thought would last the rest of your life. Seeing that come to an end can evoke grief. It is possible, though, to find a sense of acceptance and to move forward. You may discover that you can recognize the shortcomings in the marriage and acknowledge ways that you grew through the relationship and its eventual ending. Remember that there is hope: you can live a happy, healthy life after divorce.
If you are going through a divorce or experiencing relationship concerns, a therapist can help you cope with emotions and find a path to move forward in a healthy, positive way. At ReGain, licensed mental health professionals can connect with you online and offer you individualized support.
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