Healthy Divorce in Unhealthy Times

Expert Advice and Insight

To kick off the New Year, we decided to tackle one of most polarizing subjects on the planet: divorce. And yes, I can almost hear the collective bristling and baring of your teeth. I understand - no one wants to get divorced just as no one wants to get sick or go bankrupt. But it happens.

Before diving into these shark-infested waters, a few caveats: First, a divorce is the outcome of a negative experience which can and should be treated with dignity and respect. Second, we are not encouraging uncoupling; we’d love for every single marriage to last forever and ever. Lastly, I am living proof that an amicable divorce and happy future is possible.

Personally, I was devastated about getting a divorce. I was told my life would be over, my kids would suffer irreparably, and I’d forever bear the stigma of being an “ex.” Luckily, none of that happened. So if you’re going through a divorce, don’t listen to people. Listen to a trusted attorney.

Fortunately, we’ve already started these conversations for you. Attorneys Carole Orland and Eric Broder from Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, Peter Bryniczka from Schoonmaker George Colin Blomberg Bryniczka & Welsh, P.C., and Jill Bicks and Livia DeFilippis Barndollar from Pullman & Comley LLC.

Oh - I did receive one piece of good advice from a friend: “You have no choice, you just have to go through it.” So stand up straight, buy an expensive pair of shoes, and take your first steps to the other side.

Carole Orland and Eric Broder

Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC

WLM: What’s your first piece of advice?

Carole: “Try really hard to come to a solution sooner than later without unnecessarily expending emotional and financial resources. Why spend significant money on legal fees and become entwined in a system for a year or more when you can resolve your case early on, protect your children, conserve your assets, and go on with your life?”

Eric: “You only hear about the cases that are contentious because they are more interesting. The overwhelmingly majority of cases are resolved amicably.  One reason is that courts, even if one party had an affair, was emotionally abusive, or had a drinking problem, rarely divide assets 80/20 or 75/25. In reality, as competent divorce lawyers will advise their clients, there is a narrow band on how cases are resolved.”

WLM: Where should a couple start?

CO: “Start with kids, kids, kids. Address their issues first. Financial issues can wait. Start by establishing a Parenting Plan establish. Most parents want to do right by their kids and it’s often a good jumping-off point for rest of negotiations.

EB: "Also, recognize that [Parenting Plans] are living and breathing documents: what is appropriate for an 8-year old may change when the child is 14.”

EB: “Be very careful when listening to friends and neighbors because each case is different.” If someone tells you they are not paying alimony, I would ask: Why? Is it because they paid their spouse a lump sum? Did they keep the house? Was there an inheritance?

WLM: Is there life after divorce?

EB: Many couples thrive as individuals after the case is over. I get a lot of calls out of the blue from former clients just to tell me how well things are going, in particular, between their now ex-spouse.  Often these relationships get better without tension of divorce…”

CO: “Their health often improves, for example, maybe they’ve tackled alcoholism or anxiety. We see clients get happily remarried. That’s when it’s time do a Prenup!”

Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC

Peter Bryniczka

Schoonmaker George Colin Blomberg Bryniczka & Welsh, P.C.

WLM: What should you/should you not tell the kids?

Peter: “Ideally parents can agree, perhaps with advice of a therapist, to tell the children together in an age appropriate way that a divorce will be happening and emphasize that ‘Mom and Dad love you children more than anything and are committed to continuing to be being great parents.’ Don’t say negative things about the other parent, don’t discuss particulars nor issues related to the divorce with them or let them know anything they don’t need to know. Protect them from the process. Let them be happy when spending time with your ex. Divorces end and how you conduct yourself in the divorce will affect your relationship with your spouse and children and your financials. Maintain dignity and protect your kids from the process. Every decision you make in the process can add to or detract from this.”

WLM: What should you/should you not say to your spouse?

PB: “Divorce is not a fun nor happy process, but spouses control what sort of divorce they have. Learn and agree on how to disagree. You never get in trouble for what you don’t say, so try to be the bigger person. A 10 second statement can set you back 10 years.”

WLM: What are some of the biggest mistakes clients make?

PB: “People are hurt by factors leading up to divorce and want to approach the process as a way to exact punishment or vengeance upon the spouse. People have every right to be devastated, but I need them to understand how it will or will not factor in from a legal stand-point. But divorce doesn’t happen in criminal court; it’s civil. Judges seek equity, not punishment.”

Schoonmaker George Colin Blomberg Bryniczka & Welsh, P.C.

Jill Bicks and Livia DeFilippis Barndollar

Pullman & Comley LLC

WLM: How do you define a “healthy” divorce?

Jill: A healthy divorce is one that recognizes that divorce is most often a transition to a new future family structure, rather than a war to be won focusing on the past. If the divorcing couple has children, no matter what the children’s ages, that couple is connected forever. Focusing on the past drains the clients’ energy and pocketbooks – and for what? The past cannot be changed. Focusing on possibilities for the future is much more productive, empowering and leads to better outcomes.

WLM: Child custody arrangements have evolved from the traditional every-other-weekend/Wednesday nights schedule. Can you speak to that?

Livia: Even if one parent has been the primary caregiver, the court will use a best-interests-of-the-child standard in determining what parenting time and decision-making is going to look like. It is usually best for the parents to agree on a parenting plan for the children. The primary caregiving parent should understand that if s/he puts time sharing issues to the court, the amount of time that the other parent will have with the child is likely to enlarge from what it was when the family was intact, when the parents divorce.”

WLM: What is a common misconception among divorcing couples?

JB: Outcomes are far better when the clients are oriented to think about their future goals and interests. What emerges is the sense that the divorce, while an ending to a marriage, is not an ending to a life or a family.  Rather, it is a transition – a difficult one for sure – to a new phase or chapter in life and a new family structure.

WLM: What is the best advice you can give people?

LB: It is a very unusual case where one party is all “right” and the other is all “wrong”… you are going to have a rougher time of it if you simply can’t imagine that the other party or parent deserves to be fairly treated. In the end, a divorce is going to be less painful if you envision a productive future; your pathway to it can be more healthy than if you are focusing on what you have lost, your grief, or your anger.  Give yourself license to imagine yourself, at least whole, if not happy, after the divorce is over.

Pullman & Comley LLC

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