Why I Worry About Your Divorce
During 35 years as a lawyer and mediator, I’ve seen too many people achieve too little in their divorces, while spending and suffering far too much. I don’t want that to happen to you, and I wrote this book so that it won’t.
A lot can go wrong during divorce, to be sure. Some folks damage their prospects right off the bat by choosing the wrong lawyer, the wrong kind of divorce (yes, you have a choice!), or the wrong divorce goals. Others make poor decisions based on emotion rather than logic. Still others, overwhelmed by anxiety or cost, abandon their goals too early and easily.
And there are even more mistakes that are made much too often. Parents with solvable child-related disputes endanger their children’s emotional health by choosing court battles over cooperative problem solving. Self-represented spouses, and even those with attorneys, hurt themselves in court with poorly prepared paperwork and testimony that damages their cases. This book shows you how to avoid those kinds of mistakes using methods I’ve developed over the years for my clients.
But you’ll learn much more than how to avoid mistakes. This book will prepare you to achieve realistic goals at the least financial and emotional cost to you and your children.
For example, you will gain an understanding of how your budget, income, assets, and liabilities will shape what you need to achieve in your divorce. Introduction
From there, you can select from a menu of skills designed to maximize your chances of getting what you need. The material in this book can be classified along those lines as follows:
1. The legal rules and financial principles that determine outcomes in family court cases.
2. Strategies, tactics, and tips to help you use what you learn to further your goals.
To achieve your divorce goals, you must use your time, money, and energy efficiently. That begins with the learning process in this book. To help you learn efficiently about divorce, I make frequent use of lists to convey information. Much as a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, lists deliver the most information in the fewest words. That’s efficient—or put another way—that’s Divorce, Simply Stated.
For example, the lists in this book will help you:
- Select and work efficiently with skilled divorce professionals
- Decide if mediation or other alternative dispute resolution (ADR)
methods are right for you
- Choose realistic divorce goals by getting an idea of the range of likely
outcomes in your case
- Increase your chances to achieve your goals by becoming an effective
advocate for yourself
- Learn the details of how divorce works in your state
- Enhance the value of your divorce outcome by, for example,
- Taking full advantage of tax breaks and other divorce
- Identifying hidden costs that can erode the value of property you
receive in your settlement
- Discovering your spouse’s undisclosed income
- Avoiding excessive legal fees by
- Discovering the “bargain basement” of quality divorce lawyers
- Paying lawyers only for services you need
- Using non-lawyer professionals who charge substantially less than
- Acting as your own paralegal
- Taking full advantage of tax breaks and other divorce
And if you doubted the efficiency of lists to convey information, consider how much is contained in the one you just read.
Some of the lists in this book summarize typical state laws regarding child support guidelines, alimony formulas, determining what property is in the divorce “pot,” grandparents’ rights, and numerous other divorce and custody case issues. The lists do not contain the laws of every state. Instead, they illustrate common approaches to issues that arise frequently in family court cases. That information will enable you to identify what more you need to learn about your state’s laws.
To help you get state-specific information you might need (and to access court forms), you’ll have the following tools:
Links found in Chapter 17 in the section called “Information on State and Federal Divorce/Custody Laws and Divorce Decisions”
Appendix 4, a page index of each mention of specific state laws Notwithstanding these tools, I will remind you periodically—including right now—that your best source of information regarding your state’s law is an experienced local matrimonial lawyer.
What’s So Funny About Divorce? (Nothing.)
Q. What’s so funny about divorce?
So why are there jokes and silly dog photos here and there within the chapters, and dopey (yet instructive) quizzes at the end of them?
The occasional silliness in this book is meant to give you a break from the bleakness of divorce and… despite my best efforts to avoid it… the boredom you might experience reading about it.
It is not meant to make light of what you’re going through. Quite the opposite; it’s there in recognition of how miserable divorce can be and the importance of getting some relief from it.
Laughter may not always be the best medicine, but psychoneuroimmunological research suggests that it does reduce stress and can even boost the immune system.1 And hardly anyone questions that research—quite possibly because hardly anyone can pronounce “psychoneuroimmunological.”
I’ve used humor over the years to assist struggling clients to get through rough patches, to help clients (and myself) keep things in perspective, and even to clear away obstacles to settlement during negotiation sessions. Still, I understand that the humor in this book may not work for you. So I’ve made it easy to ignore by tagging it with one of these smiling faces:
If you see one of these faces and aren’t in the mood, simply skip past it!
In case you were wondering, the grinning dog is Chuck, my loyal companion while I wrote this book.2 I’ve included pictures of Chuck, like his selfie, to give you an occasional healthy… chuckle.
Whether or not you feel like chuckling during this very unfunny phase of your life, use the silly stuff as a reminder that you need breaks from your divorce. Catch a movie, go on a hike, drop in on a yoga class or meditation group, or even YouTube some Too Cute pet clips—whatever it takes for you to get the relaxation you need to stay in balance.
You owe that to yourself—and to your kids.
Speaking of Your Children…
The well being of my clients’ children has always been a priority for me in my law practice, and it remains so in this book. In that spirit, I’ll be reminding you from time to time to stay focused on your kids. Children need not be harmed by divorce—conscientious, mindful parents can prevent that.3
You might feel you don’t need me to remind you to look after your children. And you might be right. But I’ve seen the most well intentioned divorcing parents become preoccupied with their own concerns, and lose sight of what’s best for the young ones around them.
With that in mind, I’ve illustrated this book with pictures drawn by my 9-year-old granddaughter Laila— a gentle soul offering you gentle reminders of what matters most.
After you’ve completed your divorce journey, you may realize that you learned quite a bit along the way about finance, parenting, handling conflict and other adversity… and about yourself. Though it might be difficult to imagine while you’re in the thick of it, divorce can provide extraordinary opportunities for learning and personal growth. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed watching people acquire insights, knowledge, and skills that served them well during their divorces and long afterward.
It’s my sincerest hope that this book helps you become one of those people.
Finally, if you visit www.21stCenturyDivorce.com for the free updates and supplements available there, use the “Contact Us” page to email me and let me know how you’re doing, how this book helped you, or how you think it might be improved for those who use it after you. I’d love to hear from you!
I wish you all the best of luck.