Divorce is a difficult process no matter what the circumstances are, but with some preparation, women can cut down on the stress and uncertainty of life both during and after divorce. Though it's a stressful time for everyone involved, life can become even more difficult and complicated for women, especially those who are mothers. "The key to a better divorce is to set your expectations reasonably as early as possible, and to try your hardest to be kind to yourself, and (as hard as it may be) to your spouse," says award-winning family lawyer Laura Naser. "The way to set your expectations reasonably is to inform yourself so that you understand what the process will entail and to get bespoke advice on how our laws might apply to you in your unique circumstances."
Meet the Expert
Laura Naser is a senior associate in the family law department of Penningtons Manches Cooper. She is the author of The Family Lawyer's Guide to Separation and Divorce - How To Get What You Both Want
To help make the process just a little bit easier, we compiled Naser's best advice that every women getting divorced needs to hear.
Start a War Chest
You're going to need your own money for a divorce, and you'll have to be able to support yourself and your children for a while. If you're dependent on your spouse know there's a possibility they could decide to cut off support suddenly, so make sure you're prepared before you file for divorce. If there's any way to start a separate account to guard against future financial contingencies, now's the time to do it.
"If a client has savings in their own name or joint name with another, then they will need to meet their own legal fees from those funds," explains Naser. "If a spouse holds the majority of the family’s money, then it is possible to ask, or even obtain a court order, that they provide funds to the spouse who either has no funds of their own, or has now depleted their own funds, to meet their legal fees and living expenses during the process."
If you have to borrow money from a relative or friend, be sure to sign a promissory note so the court will look at it as a loan that you have to repay and not as a gift.
Keep a Divorce Calendar
You'll need to track meetings with your lawyer and make special note of court deadlines. It may be helpful to also keep track of discussions with your spouse. "The divorce process itself is predominantly done through the court’s online service which sets out clear guidance and timelines for the divorce itself," explains Naser. "The spouses’ financial separation and agreeing suitable arrangements for their children, if they have any, are not part of the divorce process. If you have a family lawyer then taking note of any dates and tasks they ask of you and immediately putting them into your diary is the best way to keep on top of progress, and to keep your costs down."
A divorce calendar may be used as evidence of participation in your children’s lives and prove when your spouse didn't keep an appointment or violated an agreement or court order. Visitation dates with children need to be written down. Keep track of appointments with your children’s teachers, doctors, coaches, and tutors too.
A divorce produces a lot of paperwork. The simplest way to keep track of all these papers is to keep them organized in one place—whether that be digitally or on paper. Put documents in chronological order and make an index or set up individual files for various categories of divorce papers. Some examples are correspondence with your attorney, drafts of agreements, financial information, and pleadings. Naser suggests creating a sub-group for all email communications so they can be quickly located.
"The only divorce document that I recommend printing and keeping in a safe place is the final divorce document, which will evidence that your marriage has been legally brought to an end, and can also be used as evidence to change your name should you wish," says Naser. "If you have children together and have had to obtain a court order setting out the arrangements for your children, I recommend traveling abroad with a printed copy of your child arrangements order."
Stay Off Social Media
Exercise caution before posting anything on social media. While it may seem harmless to vent about your current situation or flaunt your newfound freedom, it could negatively impact the divorce process. "I am increasingly seeing arguments which have been fueled by a social media post, either during the relationship or as a consequence of the relationship breakdown," says Naser. "I once had a case in which we used a spouse’s new partner’s Trip Advisor reviews to prove his evidence was not honest."
Stick To a Routine
Divorce is going to turn your life upside down, so it'll help if you try to keep things as normal as possible. Don't skip meals or change sleeping habits—routines can help you keep focus. Exercise is also a great way to relieve stress. If you can, try to keep up your social life as well. "I would recommend speaking to a therapist to help you through the process," says Naser. "Friends and family can be part of your support network, but I do often advise a little caution because they will want the best for you, and therefore may not always be the best soundboards due to their natural bias."
Try to maintain a positive outlook and don't let yourself be lured into needless conflicts with your spouse. You will need their signature on a settlement agreement before the divorce is over and you'll still be parents together for years after the divorce. "How you communicate and where you choose to have those discussions will play a part," says Naser. "Avoid situations which you know may be triggering, such as when either or both of you have consumed alcohol, in the family home after one of you has moved out, or at a once favored date-night restaurant."
If in-person communication is likely to spiral into an argument, Naser recommends opting for an email dialogue as it "slows the pace and gives you both time to fully consider what it is you want to say and how you want to express it." Stick to reading or sending emails only during normal business hours and never press send if you're feeling agitated or emotional. In these situations, have a friend or attorney review the contents first.
Make a Plan
Take it one day at a time. Focus on the present and not the past. Try to control only those things within your control. Many things in a divorce are outside of your control, but you cannot blow those things out of proportion. Make a plan and work on it to take control of your divorce and not let it take control of you.
Gather Financial Information
The more you can organize your own financial documents, the more you will reduce your attorney fees and improve your chances of success. You are going to have to gather and organize a lot of information for your attorney or your case. "Ahead of my initial meetings with my new clients I ask them to send to me the key dates of their relationship from when they first met," says Naser. "I also ask for as much as they know of their own and their joint finances with their spouse, along with a history of how their assets and debts have changed during their relationship, to include any loans, gifts or inheritance either have received during that time." Include details about children, such as their dates of birth, and any health and/or educational needs.
Many courts have a financial statement form available at the court clerk’s office and sometimes online. If you can obtain this form and fill it out, it will help you gather and organize your financial information. Give it to your lawyer at the first meeting to save time and expenses.
"Usually discussions about how to separate your finances cannot take place until the financial disclosure has been completed by both spouses, so I recommend keeping this as a priority task," adds Naser.
Do Your Research
It is valuable for you to learn everything you can about divorce early in the process. If you know little or nothing about the process, you may not make the best decisions or choices. You can raise your comfort level and your odds of success by researching and determining what is going to happen before it happens. "Getting decent advice early on can make the world of difference to how you discuss your separation with your spouse and setting your expectations accurately will give you some confidence and put you on track for a better separation," adds Naser.