Untying the Knot – 12 Vital Tips for Divorcing Parents

April 21st 2017 • 1 Comment

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Having been a divorced parent for over half of my daughter’s life, I often reflect on my experiences as well as others I have encountered.  Divorce is tumultuous regardless of how amicable your circumstances are.  It is critical for you to get organized and focus on key principles to ensure you start off on the right foot. 

For disclosure, I am not a lawyer, and you should seek legal advice tailored to your individual needs from a qualified attorney.  With that said, I filed my divorce pro se (without the use of an attorney for the formal divorce pleadings) and have learned quite a bit through the process. 

Here are important principles for those about to embark upon a divorce.

1.  Set your expectations. 

Few divorces go through full trial litigation and this is not an outcome you want.  Since this is divorced parenting blog we will leave the marital assets discussion aside for the moment.  If you think you want full custody, you will need a rock-solid reason that your ex is unfit to parent your children.  When I say rock-solid, this involves circumstances of abuse, neglect, drug and alcohol abuse or similar egregious behavior.  In absence of these conditions, studies show children will be better off with both of their parents’ involvement throughout their lives.  If you completely disagree with your ex on most fronts, this is going to be a tough uphill climb.  Take this as an important opportunity to teach your children maturity and humility in spite of your disagreement with your ex.

If you still think the only solution is a courtroom here is some food for thought.  According to a study featured in the July 2005 issue of Money magazine consider the following:

  • Average cost for mediation: $2,000 - $10,000 for the entire couple
  • Uncontested attorney-to-attorney negotiation:  $20,000 - $30,000 per person
  • Fully litigated divorce with trial: $25,000 to $50,000

Those statistics were published twelve years ago, and I’d venture with substantial conservatism that they are at least 10% higher in 2017 when adjusted for inflation (the estimated inflation between 2005 and 2017 is closer to 27%).This is a substantial chunk that could be college tuition for your kids.Add to this the emotional toll of full litigation.

In my case, I consulted an attorney for advice and drafting of the marital separation agreement.After this, I initiated the divorce pro se through completion.A point to remember is that an attorney developing an agreement still only represents one party.Make sure that if you are not the party with primary responsibility to develop the agreement, that you still have an attorney review it on your behalf. This agreement is a vital document that will govern a substantial amount of your future.This is why I will be providing advice based on my experience in a future post.

2.  Communicate with your children.

At all costs, even if there is no chance of any civil behavior between you and your ex, muster the courage and serenity to sit down and discuss what is happening to your children together.  Barring the aforementioned abuse, neglect or extenuating circumstances, your children need both of you to show solidarity even if one last time.  They need reassurance that things are under control even though life is about to change.  This will show to them that you are both committed to maintaining their wellbeing.  Even if you don’t agree on the mere fact that you should be divorcing in the first place, convey to your kids that you are respecting your differences and this is the outcome.  Again, this is your chance to lead by example. Tailor your discussion as necessary depending on the maturity of your children but answer their questions candidly and transparently. 

Do not, under any circumstance use your children as a sounding board or outlet to vent frustrations regarding your ex.  Not now, not ever.  Do not treat your child like your best friend.  They need their parents to be parents, even if you think being the “cool” parent is the in thing to do.  If they see high conflict, trust me this is not going to bode well for either you or your ex and children can be quick to take advantage of this situation.

3.  Seek advice selectively.

Good friends will tend to agree with you on nearly everything.  Perhaps they have only heard your perspective of the situation.  Or perhaps they may choose your “side” because they do not want to risk losing a friendship.  Great friends with courage will be honest, but they are rare and may still be limited to your perspective.  I’m not saying you have bad or average friends, these are perfectly normal tendencies for human beings.  Just remember that chances are pretty good that in a divorce neither party bears sole responsibility.  If you think you have a case for asset division, custody that is significantly in your favor make sure you test this against a completely unbiased source.

It’s perfectly ok to rely on your friends for emotional support, and you may need this. Of course, if your friends are also friends with your ex, you will need to take this under consideration as well.

4.  Redefine your relationship with your ex. 

You might end up with a relatively amicable divorce.  If this is the case, congratulations!  My opinion is that such thing is rare.  You might agree on many things but it is highly unlikely you will agree on everything, if so you probably would not be here in the first place.  Make sure you approach your interaction with your ex as if it is a business transaction. The sooner you establish this foundation the better.

5.  Collect information.

While this blog is intended primarily as a parenting blog for divorced individuals, let’s be frank:  it takes money to raise children, so let’s discuss marital assets for a moment.  Get as much objective evidence in the form of bank statements, tax returns and documentation of financial instruments as you can.  Asset hiding does happen and uncovering assets usually costs more money than it is worth.  If you jointly own a family home, have it appraised, possibly by more than one appraiser.  Valuation of retirement benefits is usually more difficult, and hiring divorce financial experts are costly.  See if there is not a rational solution that can be negotiated.  Armed with information, it is hard for either party to gain much advantage in negotiation when everything is transparent.

6.  Start early.

Communication between you and your soon-to-be ex is likely to get worse throughout the process.  Even if you agree on underlying principles and start the split amicably there is a good chance that you will disagree on details.  This may make negotiation more difficult later.  But don’t rush to execute an agreement just yet.  Put an outline together that addresses each asset and how this asset will be handled.  Do the same for debts.  The harder issue may be custody.  Do you have a parenting schedule in mind?  This topic warrants an entire blog post so this will be detailed in the near future.

7.  Do seek legal advice.

As I stated earlier, I successfully executed a pro se divorce.  This included voluminous amounts of research, buy-in from my ex, and probably a slightly longer process than you would achieve with lawyers.  It also included establishing grounds of separation under the same roof.  With all of that said, I still hired attorneys as I stated earlier.  If you’ve followed the above advice, and you’ve been able to negotiate a base agreement with your ex, one of you should agree to bring this to an attorney to be drafted into a separation agreement.  The other should also retain counsel in preparation for review of this agreement.

8.  Do your homework. 

Since I filed pro se, I essentially over prepared for what was a straightforward process.  However, you may not have the time or level of comfort to do the same.  Even if you choose full representation, you shouldn’t simply hand over your matter to an attorney and assume all will be handled perfectly.  Become as informed as possible about your applicable family and divorce law.  There are two important reasons for this.  First, the more you know the more you can minimize your financial burden by becoming an active participant in the divorce process.  Some attorneys will allow you to take on some of the responsibility to lower your legal bills.  Second, and more important, is that understanding the process and jurisdictional issues will ensure that your lawyer is actually doing their job. Even if you’ve hired the attorney or firm with the best reputation, it is not uncommon for your case to be handed off to a relatively inexperienced junior associate.  This person may be barely out of law school with little experience.  I have seen some fairly questionable work from lawyers that was blatantly incorrect.  If you do not like how your lawyer is handling your case, you have the right to change your representation.  Do not be hesitant here, as mistakes are hard to change down the line.

9.  Set clear expectations with your attorney.

Any contract is better when clear requirements are furnished.  When you retain an attorney you essentially enter into a binding contract to pay them to work for you.  Their obligation is to look out for your best legal interests.  Note that this may not always be your best financial interests!  Having clear boundaries on how you want your case to be handled will allow them to maximize their time to your priorities.  It is ok to put this in writing.  This information is often sought on their client intake forms.

10.  Practice restraint on social media.

It is best to refrain from expressing ill will against your ex on Facebook, or Tweet how unfit they are as a parent.  Avoid saying anything that could incriminate you by offering new grounds, especially before divorce proceedings have been finalized.  If and when you retain an attorney they will likely instruct you to do the same, in fact most will tell you it is best to suspend your account completely.

11.  Be careful about your romantic life. 

You may agree to separate and date.  You may even put it in writing.  Remember that adultery is still illegal in many jurisdictions.  The law still very much sees separation as a “trial” period to test whether you truly want a divorce, and engaging in new relationships may be viewed by a judge as counterproductive a trial separation.  As such, an attorney will advise you against engaging in a romantic relationship before your divorce is finalized.  In reality, I have seen plenty of people who were separated and actively dating as they had no intention to reconcile.  I understand that in practice things are different.  Only you can assess the specifics of your situation as well as level of risk you are willing to assume.

12.  Assume a new direction. 

Take on a hobby or revive old ones.  Find support groups and social outlets.  Divorce is a confusing time and will turn your current social network upside down.  People will naturally tend to side with either you or your ex.  Even if you both think you can maintain the same set of acquaintances and friends, can you really rely on the same group of friends to share frustrations about your ex?  The truth is you may never know the answer to this. It is natural to be upset at your ex, and it is likely to occur many times well past your divorce.  You will need some impartial outlets and possibly for a long time if your children are particularly young.

Even if you’re still convinced you don’t need them, adding a new set of friends and social acquaintances is a good idea for many reasons.It helps you to reset your identity and serves as an outlet for you to fill in the hole that will be created from your divorce. There are even single parent support groups that offer get-togethers around holidays to take the sting out of those occasions you may not have your children, or even worse for ones you may be alone if your family and friends are far away.


Whatever you do, never develop a false sense of security.You need to be in the driver seat, and maintain control of what is happening.Establish a business relationship with your ex now, set your expectations appropriately and start to get familiar with the process in your state.Join social organizations and investigate support groups, which may help you network to find other resources such as attorneys and mediators.Stay tuned for future blog posts including advice on marital separation agreements, DIY divorce, parenting schedules, and separation while under the same household.

Lastly, you might feel like a failure.  This can be very difficult.  I dragged out a marriage well beyond the point of exasperation for fear of being a failure.  Remember, life is complicated, there are many reasons divorce happens.  You are not a bad person and you are not a bad parent, you have a tremendous opportunity to learn from this experience that many may not have.  Just because your friends stayed happily married does not make them better.

  • Posted by: Lee

    April 21, 2017

    This is an excellent post! I will be sure to follow this for future updates.

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