Remember the song by Cher, “If I could turn back time!” I wish I could press rewind and get another shot at how I handled my divorce! I find myself constantly saying, like a broken record, if I only knew then, what I know today, my journey would look completely different.
I am the first to admit no one fully prepared me, nor did I have an inkling, of what you need to know when you are getting through divorce. That is why I reinvented myself to become a Divorce Journalist and combine my background as a Reporter/Producer with my personal journey. I now channel my focus and use my voice (or in this case, words) to help others avoid the pitfalls, which can result in costly mistakes and a lot of unwanted stress. Take it from one who has been there and heed this advice!
What happened when you were in school and you didn’t prepare for a test? Changes are you failed or received a bad grade. You had no one to blame for yourself for not studying. It is the same thing with getting through a divorce. You must take the time to plan, research, and know the facts. The first step is not to call a lawyer but rather your accountant or financial planner. Set-up a meeting, go to their office and tell them you need to start getting copies of bank statements, tax returns and records of your portfolio investments. Next, go through the monthly bills and look at what the expenses are. By this I mean, car payments, electricity, cable/Internet, water, gas, and mortgage/rent. Next, save your receipts from the supermarket, the dry cleaners, the kid’s activities, their sporting equipment, and miscellaneous costs that tend to pop up when we least expect it. You will need this information when you fill out a mountain of forms called, The Statement of Net Worth. Once you have these documents in place, then begin your search for a lawyer. Word of advice: meet with a few attorneys until you find one that best suited for your situation. Also, try to stay local to where you live, especially if you need to go to court. Ask them as many questions as you want. Remember if you retain them, they work for you but (and this is a “BIG” but) they are not your friends. You get charged the second you establish contact and those minutes equal $$$$$.
No, I am not kidding! Enroll in one before your divorce picks up steam. Just a brief background, I spent my entire childhood studying theatre. Who knew those skills would come in handy and work to my benefit when I was in court? Before walking through the double doors and into the courtroom, I went back to my many years of training. I would spend a few moments sitting on the wood bench in the hallway, get into a zone and then into my role. In this scene, my character had no lines. According to the script, the part only had me looking forward at the Judge and never to the left where the other side was seated. When the opposing counsel spoke and alleged things to provoke me, I just stayed silent, because nothing was written for my on-stage persona. Staying calm, cool, and collective will work to your benefit in front of the Judge, and your legal team will appreciate your lack of outbursts. You, “MUST” restrain yourself from any un-necessary comments or engaging with the enemy. It will come back to haunt you. Write this down, anything you say is on the record so pay close attention to the questions being asked and remember, less is more. Another tip, before heading to court, tell your lawyer you want to role play with them. What do I mean by this? I compare it to taking an Improv class, where you make-believe you and your partner are starring in a mini performance about a particular subject. In this case it is “Your Divorce.” Ask your lawyer to devote an hour or two (this is money well spent) to go over the different scenarios that might happen someone getting through divorce and what you should do when faced with these situations, so you come out with the Oscar and/or Emmy Award.
LAWYERS ARE NOT THERAPISTS: Reaching out to your attorney to vent about your husband/wife is basically pouring money down the drain and eating away at your retainer. Matrimonial lawyers start the clock the second they take your call, answer an
e-mail or get involved in the commotion with your “ex.” If you’re doing your best to get through your divorce, you don’t want to have a heart attack when you see the grand total on your monthly invoice, turn your kicking and screaming to a therapist, an exercise class, a support group or a close friend. Let your legal team focus on your case. Another tip: those documents I mentioned you should assemble before you file for a divorce? Have them ready to give to your lawyer so they can streamline the work and keep the matter moving, rather than slowing things down because they are busy trying to find them.
THIS IS NOT AN EPISODE ON TV: Divorce is a process and often, a long one that can take years to settle. Do not assume your divorce is going to play out like an hour-long television show. Judges do not make decisions on the spot. They may give you a new date to come back and appear before the bench, but they are not rendering a verdict on the big stuff they way you see it on the small screen. You have to have patience and a lot of it. What you think is obvious is not to the court, plus everything you want the court to be aware of has to be put in a document called, a Motion. Keep in mind: the court does not know you and your situation intimately the way your family does. They just want to hear the facts and not your personal opinions/feelings.
Ilyssa Panitz is a Divorce Journalist/Columnist.
Ilyssa writes a daily column on “Authority Magazine” on Medium called, “5 Things You Need to Know How to Survive and Thrive During & After A Divorce.”
DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.