It’s Sunday night. You’re brushing your teeth. Your spouse barges into the bathroom and blurts out, “It’s happening tomorrow.” By "it," you know they mean divorce. It's finally happening.
If you're like me, two things race through your mind. First is emotional. Where will I live? Where will the kids live? Will I end-up alone? Second is analytical. How do I make sure I don’t get screwed?
When I eventually stop crying (and yes, there would be a lot of crying), I would consult the smartest friend available on a Sunday night. Google Chrome. I would spend the next 3 to 4 hours reading everything I could about divorce. I would learn that Texas is not a good place to live if I wanted spousal maintenance. I would learn that North Carolina has a mandatory waiting period – what’s the point of that? And in Europe, I would learn that most divorces are uncontested – I knew I always liked it there.
But the longer I searched the internet, the more angry I would become. Each “article” (advertisement) would end the same way. “For more specific information, contact your lawyer.” But contacting a lawyer isn't what I needed right then. What I needed was to know what to do tomorrow.
Sound familiar? Maybe I’m the only one who thinks this way. I doubt it.
Here’s what you really should know if your divorce is starting tomorrow.
Find out the name of your spouse’s lawyer. Call them to arrange service.
Expect this call to be really difficult. I have seen lots of lawyers treat people badly just because they can. It’s terrible. Don’t argue with the lawyer. The only reason for the call is to avoid being hunted down by a process server. If you can, offer to stop by their office to pick-up the paperwork. You will need to sign an Admission of Service form. Don’t worry. It doesn't mean anything more than you received the documents. Don’t sign anything else!
Repeat the following mantra 10 times before you read the documents, “This is just a request. It’s not the right answer.”
I am always amazed by how creatively some attorneys can twist facts. Sometime ago, a lawyer indignantly claimed to me that the law clearly supported his client's position, only to argue the exact opposite a few days later in a different case. It’s frustrating. But understand that it's just part of the process. Don’t mistake the request for truth. I have personally been involved with many cases where the final result looked nothing like what we saw in the Petition.
What I do: Scan the document. Write down the date it was served. Put it in a drawer to give to your lawyer. He or she will likely do the same.
Resist the Urge to Make Radical Changes in Your Life
Sometimes, divorce motivates people to make radical life changes. People tell me that they want to change jobs or move closer to family. Neither of these things is necessarily bad, but you need to resist the urge to make radical life changes while things are fresh. Big changes mean big consequences. It's usually better to let things settle down for a week or two before doing things that are not easily undone. One common example is moving out of the house. Moving out is a big deal.
Don’t Waste Money Just to Get Even.
About once a year, I have a client who insists on taking a “Vegas Trip.” What they really mean is they want to go to Las Vegas (luxury style) to blow money to get even with their spouse who wasted money elsewhere. Typically, this follows a discussion we've had about dividing credit card debt. Please don’t do it. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that courts don't much like Vegas trips.
Try really hard not to lean on your kids.
Elsewhere, I have written about how important it is for you to share age appropriate information with your children about the changes impacting your family. But in the first few days following service, emotions can be really raw. Sometimes, it makes sense to delay the conversation for a while until you get your bearings. Find a friend or family member you can vent to so you don’t end-up saying things you will regret.
Stay off Social Media
Assume everything you post online will be read by the judge. Enough said.
Begin Creating Your Divorce Plan
I'm a big fan of creating plans. Divorce plans keep you focused when everyone else goes off the rails. Knowing how you want issues resolved and having a plan to get there makes all the difference.
Take a Deep Breath.
Things seem bad now. But it won't always be this way. Things will get better. You don’t need to have all the answers today. No one knows exactly how things will end. It’s okay to figure things out along the way.