You know that punched in the gut feeling you get when you realize that your marriage or relationship just isn’t working? You know it has to end but the thought is overwhelming, especially when you have children. You don’t know where to start. You become immobilized so you do nothing . . . just for now, you tell yourself. Maybe you even rationalize to yourself that it’s not so bad, it could be worse. And you worry what a breakup would do to the kids. Many of you have heard all the horror stories about the enormous costs involved in getting a lawyer and how you have to face a long, drawn out process. You might also think that if you get a lawyer – or even see one – your soon-to-be ex will see it as a sign that you want to fight and he or she will fight back even more, and in unpredictable ways. These are all very common fears, and they are perfectly understandable when there is such a lack of information and resources to guide you during this scary time. You can, however, face and overcome these fears by following these 6 steps:
1. Make your mental and emotional health your number one priority. Yes, I’ll admit that there is still that stigma floating around out there about “those people” who “have to” see a therapist. As if “they” can’t handle their problems on their own. I’ll admit that you might even feel ashamed when you feel that you will be judged as if there’s something wrong with you. The truth is THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU! If you had a serious physical illness, you would most likely see a doctor. Well, right now, you have an emotional injury and you need support and guidance from a professional. It is imperative, however, that you find an excellent mental health professional. Unfortunately, once again, the lack of information and guidance is utterly astounding. You simply have to take matters into your own hands and commit yourself to finding the best of the best. You deserve it! I know that the lack of a clear path can be overwhelming, especially when you have immediate pressing concerns, like taking care of your children and going to work each day. I urge you to make this a top priority. I remind clients that it’s like when you’re in an airplane and the flight attendants tell you in case of an emergency to place the oxygen mask over yourself first before tending to your children. It’s extremely difficult (not to mention stressful!) to tend to others when you are not in a good place emotionally.
Here is an important tip to finding a good mental health professional who is covered under your medical insurance plan: first, get a list of mental health providers from your medical insurance company. Perhaps you have an employer who contracts with providers who offer such services to its employees. Then, compile another list of professionals who come highly recommended from friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues. You might also search the internet for published and well-known authors who have written self-help books and articles or materials on divorce and parenting. Contact these professionals and ask them who they’d recommend in your geographical area. Compare these two lists to see if there are any names that appear on both. If not, contact the professionals who come highly recommended to you and ask them who they’d recommend – perhaps these professionals will be covered by your insurance. This is an exercise that might appear daunting, but I can assure you it is well worth the effort.
2. Gather information. Knowledge is power. Read anything you can about divorce and the emotional process that you’re going through. If anything, you will most likely feel better when you can validate what you’re feeling. One book that I often recommend to clients is “Crazy Time” by Abigail Trafford. It describes divorce as akin to the stages of grief and essentially walks through this process. If you have children, a good book on co-parenting is “Mom’s House, Dad’s House.” There are also many books on talking to children about divorce and separation (including how to break the news to them).
3. Make a Plan. Make a list of what is most important to you. Protecting your children? Financial independence? Both? What else? You might go to a quiet place and visualize what your ideal life will look like. Be as specific as you can and write it down. What will you be doing? Where will you be living? Then make that plan! Make a list of the resources you will need to consult to get additional information.
4. Gather documentation regarding your finances. You should immediately gather as much information as possible so that you have a complete understanding of your financial circumstances, including your income and expenses. For instance, you should obtain for at least the past 6 months the following: bank account statements, statements concerning your retirement accounts (IRA, 401k, pensions, annuities), stocks and brokerage account statements, deeds and mortgage documents, car insurance and loan documents, paystubs, bonus and commission statements, federal and state income tax returns for at least the last 3 years, credit card statements and loan documentation, medical insurance and life insurance documentation, business records and ledgers, list of monthly expenses for utilities and specific household expenses in budget format (such as Excel spreadsheet).
5. Get good solid legal advice. Any attorney you consult should practice exclusively in family and matrimonial matters. Make sure the attorney explains to you the different processes by which you can get divorced, traditional litigation, mediation, collaborative divorce, arbitration. Before you meet with an attorney, you should view his or her website and research how each divorce process works so that you can better decide which feels right for you.
6. Assemble your team. To help you reach your goals, in addition to your attorney, you should get a certified financial planner, mental health professional or coach who can help you manage your emotions and communication, tax advisor, and if necessary, a tax and estate planning attorney and any others who may be needed. If your attorney is unable to refer someone to you, you should obtain these professionals by gathering referrals from trusted friends, colleagues and family.
You will now be on your way to creating a new and exciting life for yourself and your children where you control the outcome. Arm yourself with the resources and professionals you need to make informed choices that will enable you to achieve your most valuable goals for the future.