All Hallow’s Eve is upon us. All month long, I have watched my favorite Halloween movies (Hocus Pocus, anyone?), visited haunted houses, carved my Jack-O-Lantern, and engaged in all the usual Halloween festivities. But it occurred to me: the scariest thing that many of my clients will go through in their lives is their divorce. And there’s a reason why the ghosts, ghouls, zombies, witches, and hobgoblins of Halloween are trotted out each year to scare us – that feeling of being up against soullessness and inhumanity is terrifying. And it’s how many of my clients feel about the people they are dealing with through their divorce process, whether it be their ex and/or his/her attorney, a mediator, or even a judge.
Here’s what it can be like:
Zombies Abound: It can feel like everyone you are dealing with is a soulless zombie – even your spouse. Suddenly, your spouse may act with no emotion toward you and will forget like the past years of your life together never happened. For example, according to him or her, you’re not the loving parent to the kids that you know you always were. His or her attorney will treat you with no emotion at all, acting at the direction of your spouse.
Likewise, the judges, experts, and mediators – whether on your side or not – have a non-emotional role to play. They won’t necessarily care about the personal issues that are important to you. They will look at your case in an agnostic, non-emotional way.
Witches Cast Their Spells: Sometimes, it might feel like there’s a hex upon you and you just can’t win. Or, it may feel like no matter how untrue or manipulative your spouse’s claims are, the judge or the mediator believe him or her, as if (s)he’s cast a spell over them. No matter the situation, it may sometimes feel like you have no control or that everything is going your spouse’s way, for no discernible reason.
Vampires Suck Your Blood: Maybe this is a little too “on the nose.” While your lawyers aren’t going to be doing unnecessary work, divorces get expensive. If you are the “monied spouse,” you may be paying for not only your own legal fees, but those of your husband or wife – and not only for attorneys, but perhaps also for various experts, or a mediator/arbitrator. All while continuing to support the family during the divorce.
Frankenstein Lives: I often use the term “Frankenstein” when referring to an agreement of any kind that has been drafted, then revised, revised again, and revised some more. It often becomes a mishmash of different thoughts that each party had at different points in the negotiation, and when taken together, makes little sense as a whole. This is NOT what you want the ultimate written agreement (or any interim agreements) to be.
So, how do you keep your divorce from becoming a Halloween-style nightmare? Here are some thoughts:
- Hire a qualified, conscientious, attorney with a good reputation.
- Listen to that attorney. After all, you hired him/her because (s)he is qualified, conscientious, and has a good reputation.
- Take control of the story, and change it if you have to. If you feel like nobody is listening to you, then whatever it is you are saying is not resonating. For example, if you are claiming that your spouse should have less parenting time because your child has been returned to you from parenting time with bumps, scrapes, or bruises, and the judge is not moved by this information because he or she views them as typical for a child of that age…then maybe you need to try a different argument, if you have one. Or, if you are arguing that you have tried and tried to find a new job after being fired from your old one, but just haven’t been able to find anything at your prior income level, then maybe you need to stop explaining and start showing the Court exactly what efforts you have made.
- Keep the written agreement simple, and only make necessary revisions. While every word in an agreement is important, trust your attorney to ensure that the agreement says what you want it to say. Don’t over-complicate it just because you insist upon one word being in the agreement that is not there, and don’t give in to the feeling that the attorney on the other side is trying to “trick” you with revisions. That’s why you hired a lawyer. In the end, you want an agreement that is easily understood by a third party who knows nothing about your case, because if an issue comes up in the future, you may be assigned a judge who is just that.