DIVORCE
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Divorce: Coping With The Family Law Process

By Charles M. Goldstein

The Emotions

Divorce is a scary, lonely and misunderstood process for most people, particularly when there are children involved. The mutual friends enjoyed during the marriage may not be of help because those individuals may not want to "pick a side." A divorce will introduce you to an entirely new balancing act.

The Effect on Productivity at Work

You must be conscious of how the divorce process affects your ability to function on your job. There may be occasions when you will feel overwhelmed by a typical day's workload. On such occasions, you may wish to apportion work in terms of what you can handle.

You may at times find yourself uncharacteristically testy and acerbic to friends and colleagues, uncommunicative, depressed, and distracted. You should try to be alert to these personality and mood changes and work with a counselor to solve them. At times this may involve temporarily modifying project responsibilities or adjusting assignments until you achieve a level of equanimity. On still other days, you may not be able to cope with the workplace or home environment at all, no matter how light the workload. When this happens, it may be prudent to request a brief personal leave. If your behavior and interaction cannot be altered through temporary changes, you may need to seek professional counseling during this stressful period.

Keep in mind that while going through a divorce you will face numerous demands on your time: meetings with an attorney, accountant and counselor, possibly locating a new residence (and furnishing it) and establishing new lines of credit. Plan ahead where possible for these contingencies by asking your employer for projects that do not have a tight deadline. Flexible working arrangements, such as job-sharing, or the opportunity to compensate for lost time by working in the evening or on weekends, are other possibilities.

You should not let others treat you as an emotional cripple. You are probably already experiencing feelings of helplessness and an inability to control your life. By being overprotective and shielding you from the daily realities of the workplace or running interference with fellow employees or clients, the employer may only exacerbate those feelings. Work may be the only place you can achieve a sense of self-worth and personal strength during this difficult period.

The Process

Some people winding their way through the divorce process may experience fatalistic or, conversely, unreasonably hopeful feelings, and may rely on divorce process myths that further complicate the situation (for example, a belief that the system is entirely gender biased). Unfortunately, the legal process is not designed to address emotional issues for the participants. Although there are milestones, such as filing the initial documents, there are no true emotional releases. Even the finalizing of a divorce is a bittersweet experience and is likely to feel like a letdown. No one truly wins in a divorce because the estate is always divided and both individuals have fewer assets than prior to the divorce. Unfortunately, the legal process is often one of attrition. The time and expense of the legal process often dictates the results as one of the parties can no longer afford the resources or the time to continue to dispute issues.

The many difficult aspects of the legal process often cause frustration and result in increased anger and hurt. In combination with the plethora of negative emotions which led to the divorce in the first place, one facing a divorce may turn to revenge as a primary motivation and extend the divorce proceeding to hurt the other spouse. On the other hand, a spouse may prolong the divorce process in the hope that reconciliation might occur.

The Solutions

Mediation may be the best answer. If you and your spouse can still communicate and have some common ground, mediation may be the most economical, efficient, and effective way to resolve the issues in the divorce. The mediator must be well trained and be competent in the area of family law. You should consult with an attorney before and after the mediation to be properly advised on negotiation of the issues and on whether the final result is a comprehensive solution.

You may need guidance in selecting an attorney. Your union, company corporate attorney or human resource department may be a source of names. The attorney should be practicing primarily, if not exclusively, in the area of family law (the area has become too complicated to be effectively handled by the generalist). The attorney should have the most current research software and resources available within the office (Lexis and FinPlan Divorce Planner are good examples). Competence, comfort and convenience are three primary considerations in selecting the attorney. Evaluate whether the attorney has a plan which will properly allocate resources to achieve realistic and wise goals.

You should be cognizant of the importance of limiting conversation with the attorney to the nuts and bolts and not try to convince the lawyer that the soon to be ex-spouse is a less than admirable human being; that's for a counselor. It will also save time and resources for an already stretched budget. Also, one should not fear asking another attorney for a second opinion at any point in the process. It is no more improper than having a doctor provide a second opinion on a serious medical condition.

The divorce process is time consuming in even the simplest cases and will make demands upon your schedule. Because the courts and your attorney are probably working the same schedule as you are, it is probable that some absences and interruptions of work will be unavoidable. Court dates, especially, are not optional. Advise your employer immediately of any court dates, as those occasions may require an absence from work for at least one half day. When you provide documentation regarding income or other employment information, keep in mind that the courts have strict guidelines and time limits. Promptly providing the necessary information is essential.

Lastly, as an attorney, I remind my clients that the legal process of divorce is basically to divide assets, arrange custody, establish support, and address insurance and debts among other issues. It is not the last argument or the final revenge. While the attorney can assist a person going through the divorce process on the legal matters, emotional help is more appropriately available from close friends or professional counselors. 


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