When most people begin the divorce or custody process, they understandably do not know what to expect. Here are some suggestions on how best to approach this difficult time.
There is simply no question that divorce is considered one of the most stressful events in life. However, one’s perspective and understanding of the process and system can lessen the stress and help you through this difficult time. Here are a few tips that might aid in this life transition.
Goals and Expectations
A good staring point to gain your bearings during this time is to ask yourself what your goals and expectations are. You should understand that these two things will likely not be, and perhaps should not be, the same. You should also understand that it is normal for goals and expectations to change as you gain more information. Nevertheless, it is good to have a starting point, which will assist you in several ways.
First, goals will establish an initial roadmap. As Earl Nightingale said, “[p]eople with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” Second, having goals will help in discussions with your attorney because your attorney needs to know where you want to be in order to assist you in in getting there. There is nothing worse than an attorney and client working at cross-purposes at such a critical time. Additionally, this conversation with your attorney will help you and your attorney craft reasonable expectations for the outcome of your case. For example, it may be your goal to acquire spousal support for five years. However, if you make three times as much as your spouse, your attorney can advise you that, while you may have that goal, it would be unwise to expect that result. Even so, your attorney now knows your goal and can examine the record with that goal in mind, searching for the best ways to argue for the result.
The Family Law Court
One of the most common goals in a divorce, even if not stated, is to “get back at” a spouse for what they have done in the relationship. However, because Colorado is a no-fault state, the court generally does not care very much about the transgressions of the marriage. Spouse cheated on you? The court does not care.
As an example, an attorney relayed a story to me from a Final Orders hearing he had with his client. During the hearing, the client’s spouse was testifying. And, at the end of every statement by the spouse, the client would huff or scoff. After about ten minutes of this, the judge stopped the testimony, turned to the client, and said “Mrs. So-and-So, I will never hate your husband as much as you do.”
And that is the reality of it. The court has a job to do, and that job is to divide the marital estate equitably and decide custody based on the best interest of the child. The court does not care that you are hurt – even when you have very good reasons to be. Because of this, it is better to focus on concrete goals regarding how you want your life to look at the end of the process, and to develop a plan with your attorney regarding how best to get there. Because, unfortunately, the court will have little patience with any other goals.
As eluded to above, the plans you make with your attorney are the means of getting to your reasonable goals and expectations. It is critical that you work closely with your attorney on these plans, which may change as the case develops and new information comes to light. However, one of the plans that should be fully considered is mediation. First, mediation is required in virtually every family law case in Colorado. Because it will very likely happen, creating a plan is critical.
Second, and far more importantly, mediation between the parties allows for almost limitless possible outcomes. The freedom of the parties to craft resolutions simply cannot be overstated. The court, by contrast, does not have nearly that same level of freedom. Put simply, in mediation, the parties can use a fine scalpel in crafting resolutions. The court must, instead, use a club to make decisions. Accordingly, including a plan for mediation is paramount to achieving your goals.
That said, you should also plan for what could happen if mediation is unsuccessful. While an experienced attorney will increase you chances significantly in mediation, sometimes the parties are just to far apart. Accordingly, a plan should be implemented regarding how best to present your case. Once again, it will be critical that you partner closely with your attorney on this to avoid confusion or unreasonable expectations as you prepare for a potentially litigated case.
As you enter the divorce or custody process, remember: “Goals, Expectations, Plan,” and make it a mantra. This will assist you in refocusing during this difficult process and keep you on track for the best outcome. If you need a family law firm who can assist in this process, please give me a call. All initial consultations are free of charge and I’d be happy to see how we can best assist you.