by Andrea Vacca-Attorney
Recently, I was the mediator for a couple that was experiencing significant obstacles in reaching their divorce agreement. One of the parties was furious at the other for wanting the divorce, and he was finding it very difficult to move past his anger. Luckily there was a very powerful force working in favor of finding a resolution: Time.
Because of certain events in this couple’s life (including extensive travel for work and some significant milestone events in their children’s lives) they were forced to put the mediation on hold for several months. When we met again, the very same person who could barely even look at his spouse had transformed into someone who was focused and ready to move forward and make decisions.
In a way, most of us are already fully equipped to reach the same type of positive outcome as the couple above did; allowing time to pass before making big decisions is a well-known tool many of us use in our lives. An example of this can be found whenever you decide to “sleep on” an important decision.
On the flip side, an example of when clients do not give themselves the time they need is when they make an appointment with me only a week or two after a decision has been made to end the marriage. They understandably want to, and feel a strong need to, have an understanding of rights and obligations, but if they are scared and anxious during our meeting it will be difficult for them to absorb the information I have to offer.
Not only are their emotions preventing them from hearing me in a productive way, they also have not allowed enough time to pass to give sufficient thought to any of the practicalities of their situation—such as ideas for possible future living arrangements or how and when to tell the children about the divorce.
If clients have not given themselves the time they need to start processing some of the most important issues in their divorce but still want to move forward, I often recommend they work with their therapist or divorce coach to help them be able to move forward emotionally and a divorce financial analyst to fully understand their financial situation.
Does that mean you should not see an attorney as soon as you make the decision to divorce?
It’s smart to get some advice, but expecting to move forward right away may be unrealistic. If one of the people in the room with me is spending a good deal of time crying, yelling, or even just seething, I know from experience that person is not ready to move forward with discussions of child support, alimony, or property divisions. They have to process their emotions first.
In subsequent meetings with clients who have taken the time to accept the changes that are happening in their lives, they are calmer and more rational. They’ve been able to process their emotions and have worked out some of practicalities of their new situation that allow us to start discussing the important issues related to the divorce.
The takeaway is, if you’re pretty sure your marriage is ending, or you have just made that decision-do meet with a lawyer to help understand your rights and obligations.
1. Do leave that meeting with some action items that are realistic for you at that time.
2. Do work with a coach or therapist to help you process your emotions and figure out how to communicate with your spouse and children during this difficult time.
3. Do start working with a divorce financial analyst to understand your financial situation.
4. Don’t feel pressured to move forward on your spouse’s timetable—and if you’re the person who initiated the divorce, don’t pressure your spouse to move faster than is comfortable for him or her. If you rush toward an agreement when emotions are raw, you can be sure the negotiations will get bogged down later.
In mediation and the collaborative law processes, there are no judge’s calendar or deadlines to dictate how fast or slow the process will move. This flexibility is a benefit that many couples want for their divorce because they know they will be able to take the time they need in order to produce an agreement that reflects their unique situation.