As a play therapist since 2001 and a private practitioner since 2003, watching divorce from the sidelines has been a large part of my job-both litigious and collaborative divorce. Working with the kids and parents to assist in the transition, I get a close up view of what happens. Much of the inner workings of litigious divorces are hidden and very scary. Aside from my personal and religious feelings about divorce [avoid it at all costs!], the truth is, divorce can be very destructive in some surprising ways.
Costs of Litigated Divorce
Money, of course, is a major cost. I’ve worked with families who delayed divorce as a legal proceeding because of this cost. Attorneys are highly trained with specialized knowledge and have dedicated a large part of their adult life to learning about the law. They usually have a staff of at least 1 receptionist and a paralegal. Their cost to operate is very high. Given all of that, their hourly rate is very high normally and if you go into the courtroom, it can be much higher. There are times when they can give the paralegal or you work to do that will lower their cost, but you can pay thousands in upfront retainers. And remember, each spouse must have an attorney of their own. The people who go to a courtroom without an attorney are not well prepared and, even though the judges work to even the playing field, there is no substitute for having someone looking out for your interests in complicated litigation. As well as attorneys, in litigious divorces there are duplicates of most jobs-particularly the financial people who decide how much the family has to split.
Another cost is loss of privacy. If there are children in the divorce and an agreement about contact can’t be made between the parents, the court can order a child custody evaluation. This long, expensive process, at times up to 6 months, investigates the family. An investigator interviews you and your family and friends, looks into your background and determines many of the issues about your child’s welfare. This grueling process and the information obtained, can be public. During this process, friends and neighbors may be told information or asked about information that the family would like to keep private. Children can feel put in the middle and questions such as ‘where do you want to live’ may be asked routinely of the children in the family. The families who I’ve worked with through this process are invariably stressed, feeling judged, and worried.
A little thought of loss is the loss of control of your schedule. During the litigious divorce process, the timing of court and other processes is based on how many divorces and judges there are in your area. I’ve seen emergency cases take months to set due to the difficulties judges have with their schedules. After the divorce, you will most likely have a cut and paste visitation schedule. Your ability to craft a unique one is limited by time, money, and the ability to enforce it. After the divorce, it is not uncommon to go back to court to modify visitation, and child support and you will not be able to control that either.
The worst loss for the family is the loss of what little relationship was possible. Many times in a litigated divorce there was some co-parenting occurring prior to the involvement of the attorneys. Once a litigated process starts, there are many reasons why communication and cooperation become more limited, despite good intentions of the parents. While attorneys are terrific at knowing rights, privileges, and expectations, they focus on advocating for you, not your relationship with your co-parent.
For the children, divorce means a loss of safety, security, and continuity. They have always seen their parents as almost the same person, providing nurturing, support, love, and for their physical needs together. Now, their relationships are changing and they may have more limited time with one parent and every habit they had for daily living is changing. Children see and hear conflict [open or covert] between their parents and their family at large. Unfamiliar adults ask probing and important questions. The risk for abuse and neglect rises higher than ever during this transition. Divorce robs children of financial security as the extra funds for their college or extra curricular classes gets spent on legal fees.
Benefits of Divorce
While there are many negatives in a divorce situation, there are some positives. Since I work mainly with children and families, I’m going to focus on the positives I’ve seen in my clients.
Parents feel free to set up a life for their child in ways they couldn’t before–choosing schedules for them and their family without having to run it past a spouse. Parents spend more one on one time with children, and learn to nurture and care for them in ways the other parent used to do. Children can feel relieved that conflict in the home has subsided or gone away, as parents either stop fighting or disagree over the phone or email. Children can begin to talk about their feelings about conflict with their parents in a much more open way. Both parents and children can take the opportunity to begin relationships anew.
Ways to Help Minimize the Damage of Divorce
All the divorcing parents I work with ask me how to limit the negatives for their children. It’s the main reason why they bring them to me. I’ll give you a few tips.
- Get them someone to talk to-mentors, family members, counselor.
- Never argue in front of the kids. Never. And when you do, apologize and find ways to not do this again.
- Do not try to destroy your spouse financially, emotionally, or professionally. This takes a toll on your children in all those ways as well.
- Do not stand in the way of important family relationships, even with family you don’t like. This is not the opportunity to keep your kids to yourself.
- Teach your kids to talk to you about when you hurt their feelings. If they can talk to you about this, they can talk to you about anything.
Many divorcing parents don’t ask me how to minimize the damage to themselves. Many times they feel guilt or shame about the end of their marriage and don’t realize that their self care really effects their kids.
- Take this one day at a time. It didn’t take you a day to get married, it won’t take a day to get divorced. Many times, a couple can take a year or more to go through a litigious divorce.
- Get support. You don’t have to bad mouth your spouse to have friends and family support you with babysitting, food, advice, a listening ear. You won’t always know what you need, so just let them do what they want to help. Many parents isolate and go into hiding from friends and families to keep from making them take sides. Don’t do this. You need people in your life.
- Be involved. Contact all the professionals in your child’s life and be sure that they have an open line of communication with you.
- Consider all the options. Decide what type of post divorce life you want to have with your spouse, soon to be ex, and make that a part of your divorce process. This may take some time, but rushing through this process causes huge issues down the line.
- Don’t get into another relationship right away. You may know the perfect person for you, but you are in for a stressful, stretching time. You will change and grow and getting into a relationship too soon can get you to restart the same mistakes you made the first time. It also causes stress to the changing family and may make it more difficult to add them into your life later.
- Watch out for drugs and alcohol. With your new freedom, you may feel you can party more. And you can. Until you can’t. Simply be very careful to look for the type of life you want to have.
We’ve talked a lot about the litigious divorce. I’ve seen this, you’ve seen this, it is ugly and mean and can devastate members of the family you love. Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas on how to have a less destructive divorce.
Collaborative Divorce can be an option which addresses many of the negatives above. While it is still expensive, it can be a better way to untie the knot. Look into collaborative professionals at http://collaborativedivorcetexas.com/. It isn’t for everyone and you must start with the right attorney, but the process is a choice the parents make to lower the conflict, learn different ways of negotiating with their co-parent, control their schedule, and keep private things private. I’m learning more and more about this type of divorce and look forward to sharing that information with you.
Do you need someone for your child to talk to about your divorce? Do you need support for yourself during this process? I’m available to talk and you can easily schedule online an intake session for you or your family member. Call 940-222-8703 or email me at [email protected]. Let’s make stronger kids, stronger families, and a stronger community.