Four Parts of Divorce
Most people think that divorce is a single transaction: we split, and all the rest is paperwork. Ladies and gentlemen, I changed my own brake pads… once. But only once. I had a book that was supposed to tell me how to do it. I had the parts and a basic tool or two. Let’s just say it was a very educational experience.
There are even more moving parts in a divorce than in a set of brakes. There are many things to do and to think about when divorcing, and that is why having an attorney is so important.
The truth is, you can go to the court and get a divorce pro se (without legal representations); the difference is often in the quality of the results. The Texas Supreme Court has even supplied forms which, although they are only supposed to be used in strictly limited circumstances, are being widely and inappropriately used beyond those bounds. Obviously, that DIY brake job didn’t kill me, but it did create long-term unintended consequences because I didn’t really know what I was doing.
When we operate in our areas of ignorance, what we don’t know, what we don’t even think to deal with, that is what is likely to hurt us down the road. To help you think beyond the urgencies of the moment, let’s take the long view of the big picture The four basic areas to consider in divorce are:
Even after the fighting is done, even after the papers are signed, having gone through these different stages of divorce can create aftereffects, can create problems between the two of you which make communication difficult long after the screaming has faded away.
Things to think about when divorcing:
The legal side is what most often comes to mind when the word divorce is used. You may think “the divorce” is just the Decree, just a piece of paper that makes it all go away. But divorce is a process, and although filing papers (usually called a Petition) with the Court initiates the process, there is so much more involved; there are procedures to be followed and usually failure to follow the procedures of the Court can undermine or even derail your case.
A cooperative divorce may not take long to complete, or it may drag on for months as the two of you, with your various advisors, go back and forth about what terms to have in the Decree until the Court threatens to throw out (dismiss) your case. A cooperative divorce is usually less expensive, and less stressful than a contested divorce; in many cases, it can be finalized in less than three months with only one of you going to Court. But remember that, even if you are at a place where you think you are in agreement on how to split your assets or time with your children, not filing the correct papers with the Court can cause legal issues in years to come. Agreements not written into the Decree, or not properly put, may have a much different result than that desired. It is always a good idea to at least consult with a professional and have a knowledgeable family lawyer look your agreement over before it is finalized.
When parties cannot agree, the odds against getting it done without a lawyer’s assistance become even worse. There have been instances where the couple go to mediation and reach an agreement, but fail to use the right words in the Decree or even to get a Decree to the Court; in those cases, the next crisis is usually not long in coming. When the case goes contested, it can be a messy process. Emotions can run high and feelings can be hurt. Sometimes people can fight just to fight. An attorney can help the client make the best possible case, and a mediator can help the parties find common ground and move their case to resolution.
Often couples fight over finances. This is an area that can cause even more argument when the uncoupling happens. Money – or the lack of it -- can cause difficultly because what used to be supported by two incomes is now supported by one. Looking at what you owe and what you own is not always a pleasant experience, and when you think you will soon only have half of that (or even less, if you let your greedy spouse get away with it) will likely cause more than a little stress. Parties may argue over who keeps what and who takes what debts. Sometimes people awarded property cannot afford it and it ends up being sold or taken away after all.
Unfortunately, this is a harsh reality for couples going through a divorce. Having open and honest communications about marital assets is best. Just because you want to still live in the big house doesn’t mean that you can afford to after you are only counting on your own income. Seeking professional advice about assets and looking to the future is the best way to decide if an asset is worth keeping or if the parties should sell it and split the profits.
Having a plugged in more social society can make divorce all the more difficult. Dealing with friends, family and social networks can take a toll. Who has to find a new church? Who keeps the dragon hoard in World of Warcraft or that beachfront condo in Second Life? When is the appropriate time to change your Facebook status?
Not only is it hard for a person divorcing to deal with the new status of single person, it can be difficult for families and friends to adjust as well. What used to be a more private affair is now splashed around Facebook, Goggle+, Twitter and Instagram. It can be difficult for friends not to take sides and be involved when your problems are put out there.
Remembering to keep personal information private can be difficult, especially if one party in the divorce process has already moved on. Seeing the new Ms. or Mr. is difficult enough without it coming across your feed when you are not prepared for it. It is most helpful to keep friends and family out of your divorce and keep that part of your life off of Facebook and other social networks. Family and friends mean well, but sometimes their unsolicited advice can inflame a situation and make matters much worse. It is probably not helpful your Texas case to know how someone’s best friend’s cousin handled the situation in New Jersey.
Ending a marriage is like having a death in the family. There is a grieving process that everyone must go through. What was familiar and comforting is no longer there. Even if both parties are angry with one another, there is still a loss there. The relationship wasn’t always like this; there was a period of good times, of love, of a hopeful and confident future. Even if it was only a brief, shining moment, that is what hurts, that is what breaks us: the loss of what was and what we expected to be. But it does not have to defeat us. Properly grieving and allowing a cooling off period can help give clarity in a situation. Speaking with someone, knowing your rights and what you are going to expect in the process can help; especially when children are involved. When you are divorcing the other parent of your children, you are never really disconnecting; you will be related to the other parent until someone passes away, and maybe after that. You may improve the situation by attempting to find a way to check your emotions at the door and deal with this person for the sake of your children. Despite what you might think of your soon-to-be-ex-spouse, your children still love that person and bad mouthing the other parent tells the child s/he is 50% trash. Not the formula for a healthy child.
Putting them together
Taking some time to think about – and maybe even writing down -- your goals for the divorce process and knowing your rights is a great first step. Most people assume that, no matter what, the children stay with the mom. This is not always the case. Dads are awarded custody more and more often. Texas is an equal rights state; discrimination on the grounds of sex is forbidden, and the Texas Family Code reflects this. Knowing what is community property, what is separate property, and what is mixed (and how to deal with those different types) can be extremely important; if you figure it out a couple of years down the road, it may be too late. Laws for each state are different, some rules and requirements in different counties are different (they vary even in cities as close as Lewisville and Bedford), and going into a divorce unrepresented can affect you for the rest of your life.