Ready for a hard truth? Divorce sucks. Full stop. That's all you need to know.
Still there? Okay . . . let me try again.
You will survive. You will grow stronger. The sun will rise.
Feel better? I didn't think so. That's why I didn't say it the first time.
The truth is that platitudes, gratitudes, and saditudes (is that a word?) won't make things better. Time is the only thing that heals. And maybe your faith.
While I can't improve things, there are steps you can take to stop them from getting worse. Here are my Top 5 Divorce Mistakes.
Mistake #1: Not Identifying Goals.
Why doesn't anyone think about their future? No, I don't mean passively "worrying" about it. That's the new national pastime. I mean critically thinking about it. Put pen to paper. Outline your goals.
Recently, I heard a podcast where a young woman said she had plotted her life to age 53. No joke. Care to wager if this woman is already successful? Remember, I said I heard her on a podcast.
Okay, since you asked, I'll tell you what you should do. Create a Divorce Plan. And no, I can't do it for you. Not many people could handle living like me. I require too much luxury.
"But shouldn't my lawyer do that?" you say. Maybe. It's not a risk I would take.
Lawyers are like expensive trail guides – We know many different routes to many different places, but unless you tell us where you want to go, we might not take you there.
Identifying goals means prioritizing outcomes. What do you really need from this divorce? You can’t have everything. What are you willing to give up to get it? Be realistic. Don’t waste time or energy asking for everything.
Mistake #2: Hiring the Wrong Kind of Lawyer.
Oh boy, this is a biggie. Maybe the most expense mistake a person can make.
Law is an art not a science. Let me say that again for you skimmers out there. There is nothing about the law that remotely resembles a math problem.
Of course, there are rules and laws and procedures. Yes, most of the time the professionals do follow these guideposts. But the system was built with tremendous discretion to do "justice." This means that a judge or evaluator (or even sometimes a lawyer) has the ability to do what he/she thinks is right in a particular case.
The result is that two lawyers could sit down with identical facts and paint radically different pictures.
So when you're hiring a lawyer, make sure to chose one who has the skills, experience, temperament, loyalty, attention to detail, or other characteristic that you value. Do not assume that all lawyers in the field are the same.
Finally, don't accept being treated badly. Rudeness is not evidence of legal skill.
Mistake #3: Believing You Are Defenseless.
This idea makes me crazy. No one is defenseless. You may not like your options, but in the USA, you have lots of them.
The best advice I've ever read on this topic comes from Jocko Willink, a retired Navy SEAL commander. Here's what he said to Tim Ferriss in the book Tools of Titans:
"If you want to be tougher mentally, it is simple: Be tougher. Don't meditate on it."
What he meant was that being "tough" is a decision. One that you make a million times a day. If you want to feel more empowered, act more empowered. Start with your next decision. It's up to you.
Since I've read Mr. Willink's advice, I've used it in my own life. It's been transformative. No one is defenseless unless they choose to be.
Mistake #4: Looking Bad.
No, I don't mean looking ugly - although that's never helped anyone I know.
I'm talking about acting like a lunatic in a way that gets paraded before the judge on some random Tuesday afternoon.
Don't claim you've never acted that way because we all do. It's only by God's grace that there isn't a highlight reel of my dumbest escapades.
The point is that judges want people to act reasonably. For good reason. Try to be reasonable, even though dealing with your spouse might make your skin crawl.
Divorce court is a lot more like Judge Judy than anyone wants to admit. You can only make one first impression. And if a judge hears that a person is dropping insurance, changing the locks on the house, cleaning out the bank accounts, or using the children as pawns, it's hard to recover from it.
Better to just steer clear. Assume your life is an open book. Don't look bad.
Mistake #5: Not Putting the Kids First.
Children are not miniature adults. They have different cognitive and emotional needs. Until they hit their mid-teenage years, most kids don’t have the cognitive ability to understand the concept of divorce.
Kids understand physical separation.
If possible, work with your spouse to tell the kids (in a neutral, nonjudgmental way) what is happening before someone moves out of the house. Last I heard, one-quarter (25%) of all children receive no explanation for why a parent suddenly disappears.
And of course, it's not a good idea to have the kids help you move out.