While the divorce rate has decreased over the past decade, approximately one in three Australian marriages still end in divorce.
A divorce can be an incredibly difficult event. You’re dealing with strong emotions, sensitive issues like child custody and complex financial questions. Even the best intentioned, least acrimonious breakups can end up in long, drawn-out court proceedings. And this can be traumatic and costly.
While no divorce is going to be easy, there are some things you can do to help ease the divorce process and minimise the heartache for everyone involved.
- Decide if divorce is right for you
Done wrong, divorce can be a traumatic, expensive and drawn out process. So before deciding on divorce, it’s worth exploring the other options. For example, there may be underlying factors causing problems in the relationship. Counselling or therapy may be a good way to address these issues without having to dissolve the marriage.
A temporary separation may also be a good option. This will give you some space and time apart and an opportunity to address any issues in the relationship. The space can also be good for reducing tensions and calming frayed emotions, helping the people involved to approach each other and the relationship in a calmer, more rational way.
However, if you have considered or attempted the alternatives and decided divorce is the right option, then it’s time to do some research.
- Do your research and understand the process
First and foremost, it’s important to ensure you understand how the divorce process works, what are your rights and responsibilities and what are your avenues for resolution.
Understanding the divorce process will help you to know what to expect and ensure you avoid any nasty surprises. It will also help you to determine the particular divorce path you want to go down, rather than being directed by your lawyer. For example, a litigious lawyer may push for litigation over mediation, whereas a non-adversarial lawyer may be inclined to avoid litigation.
Understanding the different divorce options will help you decide on what works best for you and choose a lawyer best suited to your process. Of course, a good family lawyer will be able to advise on the different avenues for resolution and recommend a path best suited to your situation.
- Have your finances in order
The financial side of a divorce can be one of the most challenging aspects. Unravelling shared finances can be complex and dividing money and assets can be contentious and emotionally fraught.
To ease the process, it helps to get your finances in order as much as possible. Make a list of assets (shared and individual) and gather all your financial records including tax returns, bank and credit card statements, mortgage and loan information, insurance policies, superannuation statements and so on.
Given that your living situation is about to change dramatically, it can be a good idea to create a budget for your current shared expenses. Based on this you can start to think about how separate budgets will look once you’re separated. This will help you both to work out a practical division of assets.
Depending on the existing relationship with your spouse, it may be unwise to start financial negotiations without a qualified professional there to mediate. However, having all your financial ducks in a row will help to expedite the divorce process. Full financial disclosure will also help to promote trust through the proceedings.
- Maintain respect and civility
Divorce is an emotionally trying time, especially during an acrimonious breakup where there’s been infidelity, abuse or addiction involved. Chances are there will be a lot of blame going around, and you may be tempted to use this time to get a few things off your chest. However, none of this will ease the divorce process and can actually work to complicate and draw out the process. If you hire an aggressive lawyer with the intent of fighting everything then you’re only going to add to the emotional and financial strain of the proceedings.
It’s important to try to maintain respect and civility throughout the divorce process. Remember that you are not the only one going through the divorce and you are not the only one hurting. Try to be respectful and willing to compromise. If you can’t do this, then it may be better to appoint a lawyer or mediator to speak on your behalf.
- Put the kids first
Divorce can be doubly difficult if there are children involved. Even a smooth breakup can traumatise children, leaving emotional scars that can linger for the rest of their lives.
Try to put the children first throughout the divorce process and come to a resolution that will be the best for them.
It’s vital to remember that children are children (not little adults). If you think the divorce is a dizzying and disorienting process for you, then imagine what it’s like for the kids. It’s vital that you don’t try to involve the children in negotiations and don’t try to enlist them to your side. And under no circumstances should you speak negatively about your partner during or after the divorce.
While it is important to be open and communicative with the kids during the divorce process, it can also be difficult to remain objective. So you might want to consider organising some counselling for the kids, so they have someone impartial to help them understand what’s going on.
- Try to keep emotion out of it
Relationships are built on emotion, so obviously ending a marriage is going to be emotionally complex. There will be many decisions and conversations where you will be tempted to give in to emotion. From custody of the children to finances to who gets the family pets, it’s important to try to make decisions based on logic not emotion.
When confronted with an emotional decision, it can help to notice your initial emotional response and give yourself a few moments to breathe and process the emotions. This can help you to think logically and rationally and not make snap decisions based on knee-jerk feelings.
- Don’t go it alone
While a good family lawyer will guide you through the divorce process, it’s important to enlist help from a range of sources. Make sure you have friends and family to support you through the process. You may want to consider counselling or therapy to help process the divorce.
A divorce is a big deal. There is no way to make it an easy or pleasant process. However, being prepared and understanding the process will minimise the trauma and the lingering effects of the breakup.