Just like in the popular TV show, What Not to Wear, in which selected individuals undergo unexpected, rapid and identity shaking transformations, going through a divorce can be both terrifying and liberating at a pace that is very often, overwhelming.
As in most matters of the heart, fear of change, or better yet, uninformed fear of what one imagines change will bring, oftentimes rules. As more or less evolved organisms, we seek homeostasis, and sudden change upsets that balance, if only temporarily, and can allow for a new level of homeostasis, and hopefully a more evolved level. That is the challenge--moving forward--gathering information, sorting, resorting, and making changes--step by step.
This article offers information I have gleaned from years of working with couples as both a therapist and a life coach, in various stages of breakdown-some needing assistance in achieving a breakup, and others looking for tools and new perspectives to avert a breakup.
As a solution focused therapist, my interventions address the more practical and action oriented side of a divorce, with respect and consideration given to the emotional upheaval.
In fact it is that very same upheaval that calls for a measured and thoughtful action plan. There is nothing like being informed and able to predict likely outcomes, to allay even the most debilitating of fears.
If couples counseling or circumstances in life, have led you to the point of no return, then this article is for you. The main areas of fear involve:
-Finances and housing -Child custody and support
All of these are linked by the common thread of loss. With adequate information and personal allies, all of these fears can be managed, no matter how limited your resources. You just need to know your options and not act on impulse or out of fear. Usually doing that only creates consequences that are even scarier.
To start out, it is imperative to consult a GOOD lawyer, hopefully someone personally referred to you. The best way to tell a good lawyer from a not so good one is to assume that you usually get what you pay for, although some of the better ones do offer a free initial consultation, outlining their approach and fee schedule.
Your lawyer should specialize in divorce. An aggressive, but ethical approach is the best way to go. DO NOT hire an aggressive, shark-like lawyer, who will "do whatever it takes" to promote your agenda. The consequences from the oftentimes devastating process of obtaining an unfair, but advantageous agreement, is not worth it, seeing as you will probably have to deal with your ex (and yourself) for years to come, if there are children involved.
Besides a lawyer, it is usually a good idea to consult a therapist, who can support you and your kids, if you have them. This could help to defuse emotions that might interfere with more rational thinking and planning.
Regarding finances: position yourself carefully, because accumulating debt is a common byproduct of many divorces. This list offers suggestions to follow in order to minimize the ravages of nearly inevitable debt.
1. Envision the lowest standard of living you can tolerate and accept
2. Make a budget accordingly
3. Check the budget against income, including presumptive alimony or child support if applicable
4. Minimize credit card usage
5. Consider alternative and/or temporary living arrangements rather than renting or buying right away. If you do have the means to buy, once the dust has settled, consider a two family or multi-family dwelling, to increase passive income relatively easily.
6. Brainstorm other ways to earn as much money as possible. If you already have a job, and kids, consider work at home as a second job. With Ebay and other do-it-yourself sites flourishing, as well as many online businesses, it is possible to increase needed cash flow. Be careful, however, with online promotions. If they offer a get rich quick scheme, or an MLM pyramid scheme, chances are it is a scam. An example of a legitimate, home based business is being a proofreader. Another mechanism to develop your own business, is a user-friendly, website building platform called SiteBuildIt. Through tutorials and voluminous step by step written instructions, SBI makes building a home based business accessible to the average person. And if you need web design help, www.highimpact.co.uk offers a team approach to add professional and technically savvy assistance.
7. If debt is already a problem, DO NOT use debt settlement companies. While their services sometimes help to diminish debt, stay away from any that requires an upfront retainer before they begin to pay down any of your debt. Oftentimes creditors refuse to work with these companies, causing a myriad of problems for you: being sued for immediate lump sum payments, losing the retainer, ruining your credit for years, and causing unexpected tax implications from the unpaid, settled amount.
8. Instead of debt settlement, try negotiating with your creditors yourself. Many of them will consider a lower rate and convert your obligation into a longer term loan.
9. If doing it yourself doesn't work, try debt consolidation companies, such as www.takechargeamerica.com, who negotiate a fixed lower rate while forcing a termination of credit card usage. The damage to your credit is probably less severe with this approach, as some creditors report to the reporting agencies that payment is occurring gradually over time, whereas in settlement, it appears to the agencies that you are in arrears until enough money has accumulated in your escrow account to pay them off in full at the settled amount, oftentimes many months or years down the road.
Child custody and support is another hot item in divorce. There is a lot of controversy around what is in the "best interests" of the child. In recent years, many parents have opted for "joint custody "believing that equal access to each parent makes the most emotional sense. In theory, that is true, but in practice it oftentimes falls apart. Many children develop anxiety and/or anger related symptoms from the divorce itself, exacerbated by the constant moving back and forth. Most irksome is the absence of a home-base, a feeling of being planted securely, especially in a time of increased insecurity. Needing doubles of many items, and staying organized enough to remember what to take where, places much of the stress squarely on the child. One could argue that this is most unfair for the child rather than the divorcing parents, causing stress and frustration which sometimes transforms into behavior problems or depression.
Increasingly, experts recommend choosing one parental home base, with regular, predictable stays/visits with the other parent. The downside to this scenario is that it can increase the conflict between the parents, regarding which home is "primary". And it blurs boundaries between the "best interests" of the child vs. the parents. For some parents, giving up primary custody is such a blow to the ego, a loss of control, and another devastating loss, that managing those personal feelings becomes the driving force behind the decision. For others, the decision is more financially driven. Most often the non-custodial parent will be required to pay child support, which is determined according to strict state guidelines, which may pose a significant financial burden, which then creates deepened resentment between already acrimonious parents. Once children become teenagers, the choice becomes their own, although even then it isn't exactly free, seeing as one parent has to be "chosen" over the other.
In another subcategory, the intensity of disagreement and concern over the safety of the children, may force the appointment by a judge, of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to evaluate and recommend the best custody arrangement for the child, independent of either parent's personal agenda.
As you can see, once broken down into smaller, bite-sized pieces, the experience of divorce can become more understandable and hopefully manageable. Considering the enormous number of divorces these days, one solace for many is the simple fact that "you are not alone". Indeed, joining a support group in addition to finding a therapist will also decrease your isolation and fear.
In the end, having a strong and knowledgeable therapist and lawyer will help to guide you through this very painful process.