Monday, September 28, 2009

How to Handle Your Divorce: Top 5 Dos & Donts

Divorce is unquestionably one of the most difficult challenges people ever face. Because divorce affects every aspect of your life, it can be overwhelming. Here are 5 steps you can take to protect and prepare yourself for a divorce so you do not make the common mistakes.

1. Find a Good Attorney. It is never too soon to seek the advice of a good attorney who can arm you with the knowledge of how to protect yourself (and your children, if applicable) in the event that the relationship ultimately ends in divorce. Finding the right attorney takes some work. Find an attorney who primarily practices family law, has a good reputation, and has handled cases like yours before. Most importantly, you must feel comfortable with your attorney. Ask a lot of questions and share your concerns. It is your attorney’s job to put you at ease and ensure you understand the process and know what to expect. This is your life! So, even after you have retained counsel, if he/she is not responsive or seems unwilling to address your concerns, find a new attorney.

2. Protect & Prepare Yourself Emotionally. It is natural to experience a grieving process during and, even after, your divorce. During this difficult time, take care of yourself! You cannot control the behavior and feelings of anyone else, so focus on what you can control---you! Get plenty of sleep; eat healthy and exercise. In addition to being good for your body, exercise is a great outlet for anger and frustration. Focus on the positive things in your life rather than the negative aspects of the divorce, and surround yourself with a support group of positive people. There are countless books and other reading materials that can be helpful; or you might want to consider joining a local support group. Finally, do not be reluctant to seek the professional help of a counselor/therapist.

3. Protect & Prepare Yourself Financially. First and foremost, know what you have (assets and liabilities). This can be overwhelming for people who have not been responsible for the finances during the marriage. Empower yourself with knowledge. Make copies of all financial documents indicating what you own and what you owe. Do this right away. You might be surprised how such documents “disappear” after the divorce process starts. Monitor the bank accounts to be sure that all deposits are being made and bills are being paid. Check credit card statements for suspicious charges. Review all accounts for suspicious withdrawals, charges or transactions. If you or your spouse have any collection items (e.g., coins), take photographs and research their unique value. Consider taking a room by room inventory of personal property in the event a dispute arises later.

4. If You Have Children… If you and your spouse have children, your divorce will be even more challenging. No matter how angry you may be with your spouse, he/she is the parent of your child(ren). Respect that and keep your children’s best interests as your top priority at all times. Do not, under any circumstances, speak negatively about your spouse in front of your children. It is hurtful to them, it puts them in the middle, and it will ultimately backfire on you. Consult books or therapists concerning age-appropriate ways to explain the situation. Remind them that they are loved by both parents and that your divorce is not their fault. Consider counseling if it appears they are struggling. Be sure to advise their teachers/caregivers of the situation, so that they will be more aware of their mood/behavior and, hopefully, more understanding of misbehavior. Finally, if you believe that custody will be contested, start keeping a journal of the children’s involvement with your spouse. Above all, remember that your spouse will be in your life, long after the divorce is over, and even after your kids are grown.

5. Always Do The Next Right Thing. Whether you have children or not, it is imperative that you make good decisions throughout the process. Regardless of how justified you may feel in such things as contacting his/her employer, friends and family to inform them of his/her wrongdoings—don’t! Act as if the judge who will decide your case will know everything that you do and say. Do not attempt to retaliate or seek revenge. As hard as it seems, take the high road. Matching your spouse’s bad behavior will continue the conflict, result in far more attorney fees, and will prolong the time until you can find emotional peace. Finally, remember that emails are permanent, voicemails and text messages can be saved, and comments or photos on social networking sites can be retrieved. Be smart. A bad decision today can significantly impact your future.

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