Taking The Leap

DivorceIn a recent article we talked about the fact that January is a very popular month for people to file for divorce, for a number of reasons.  In this article we are going to talk about what to do if you have decided that your marriage has gotten to the point where the only answer is divorce.

This is never an easy decision, especially if there are children involved, but in some cases, it really is the best decision for all parties, including the children.  It can be overwhelming to know where to begin once the emotional decision has been made.

The hope is the divorce will be civil, and that many of the issues can be mediated or agreed upon by the divorcing spouses.  In some cases, this is the reality.  In other situations, not so much; it may be a contentious process.  It may be comforting to know that, in the absence of agreement by the parties, Florida divorce laws provide structure and guidance in determining such things as child support, spousal support, time-sharing and division of marital assets.

Be Prepared for the Emotional Ride

Even if you know the marriage is irretrievably broken, even if you are sure you want a new and different life, there will be many emotions in play during this time.  You may experience sadness, a sense of loss of the family structure.  You may feel a sense of failure that you couldn’t make the marriage work.  Stress over financial issues, time-sharing and the effect of the divorce on the children will be present, and you need to be prepared to deal with the ups and downs.

Counseling can help you deal with these emotions, and also help deal with the children’s reactions to the change in their lives.  Some divorcing couples even participate in family counseling, so that they have the emotional tools to continue on as family, albeit with some differences.

Just be aware that all these emotions are completely normal.  Second-guessing yourself (“have I made the right decision?”) is also completely normal, so don’t beat yourself up if you indulge in a bit of that.  Sometimes just knowing all this is the normal path to your new life is comforting and calming.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you were the one who initiated the divorce, you won’t experience these feelings.  You most likely will, but that doesn’t mean the decision is not the right one for you and your family.  People are often surprised that these emotions well up, but again, it is completely normal and to be expected.

Have a Plan in Place

Divorce is not something that should be jumped into without serious consideration for the logistics of the situation.   You need to have a plan.  One of the important things to be aware of is the financial condition of you & your spouse, and have an idea as to what comprises the marital assets.  Know what bank accounts, retirement accounts and investment accounts exist, if possible.  Doing a bit of your own information gathering can save time and money when it comes to court time and attorneys’ fees.

You need to have a place to live, if you are the one leaving the family home.  You need to know how you will support yourself, or if your spouse will be contributing to your support.  (Sometimes the other spouse is reluctant to contribute until a court order mandates that they do so.)

Have a preliminary plan in place for the time-sharing of the children, too.  This gives the children a sense of comfort and structure that will be needed during the transition time.  They need to be reassured that the divorce is NOT their fault, that this is between the adults, and they don’t need to be involved in any contentious behaviors.  They need to know they will still get to spend time with both parents, and that even though things are different, they are still loved and secure.

Safety First

If there have been issues of domestic violence, or you fear that your or your children might be in danger from your spouse, then there are additional steps you may need to take to protect yourselves.

In these circumstances, an experienced family law attorney will know exactly what to do to keep you and your children safe.  There are restraining orders that can be put in place, and supervised visits with the children.  Please don’t let fear keep you from seeking a divorce that you know is the best path for you.

Be Open to Mediation

Thankfully, not every divorce needs to be a difficult one, and often many of the issues can be agreed upon without going to court.  Mediation is a great method of resolving divorce issues, and Florida has certified family law mediators that will assist you in this method.

Mediation is a process whereby the mediator helps the divorcing spouses come to their own agreement about such things as time-sharing, spousal support, and child support.  The mediator can help sort through the distribution of marital assets, as long as the agreed to division is equitable.

Keep in mind that any agreement reached through mediation must then be ratified by the family court judge, so the resolutions must be fair and in accordance with the Florida statutes.  For instance, child support must be within the statutory guidelines, unless the judge sees a valid reason to deviate from them.

Seek Experienced Legal Help

It is so critically important to have a lawyer who will be an advocate for your best interests.  Often spouses who are divorcing amicably will try to save money on legal fees and let one attorney prepare all the paperwork and do most of the work.  This is a bad idea, as the attorney cannot really advocate equally for both parties.  Make sure you have an attorney on your side, especially if there are significant assets and children involved.  This is not the time to be “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”