Archive for the ‘Legal Separation’ Category

Spring is here.  This is traditionally a time for renewal and looking into the future towards brighter days.  People who feel trapped in their relationships use this time  to search for ways to change their lives.  If that is where you find yourself, you may be asking where to start if you want to end a marriage or long-term relationship.  A good way to start is to talk to your counselor or therapist, or a trusted friend, about taking this step.

Oftentimes it helps clarify in your mind why it is that you want a divorce (or to end the relationship if you aren’t married), and what is important to you in getting a divorce.  We often fantasize that life will be “all good” once we have left a relationship, but that is seldom the case.  Being clear in your mind that you want a divorce, and about the reasons why you want a divorce, can help you stay clear-headed and make good decisions.

Then, once you are clear that you want to end the relationship, you need to start gathering information.  That is when it can be helpful to talk to a divorce attorney about the divorce process.  I offer free consultations for the first half-hour of meeting with anyone interested in learning about divorce, and so do many other divorce attorneys.  This is a good way to find out the basic information about what to expect during the divorce process.  You can also contact the King County Bar Association and set up a 20 minute consultation with a divorce attorney at a neighborhood legal clinic .

Another option is to attend a divorce workshop.  I am a presenter at the 2nd Saturday Divorce Workshops held at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington, every second Saturday of the month.  At this workshop, you will spend three to four hours with a divorce attorney, a financial planner, and a mental health professional discussing all three aspects of the divorce process.  This is cost-effective and time-efficient way to get many of your questions answered.

If you are particularly concerned about the financial impact of a divorce, you might want to meet with a financial planner who specializes in helping people through a divorce.  If you are worried about the impact of a divorce on your children, you might want to set up an appointment to meet with a therapist who specializes in helping children through divorces.  If you are worried about how your partner will react, you may want to find a counselor of your own to help you plan out how you are going to address ending the relationship with your spouse.

The main thing to remember is that there is no need to jump into anything just because you feel ready to “spring forward”.  This is a time for planting seeds:  learning about your options; carefully planning how you will proceed; and laying the groundwork for moving forward in a positive direction.  When you work carefully on this  phase of planning your divorce, it can save a lot of grief in actually executing your plan later on.

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When I first graduated from law school I worked as a bailiff for a Superior Court Judge.   She was very much against my decision to practice divorce law (what we call “family law” in Washington State), and did her best to dissuade me.  While I was working in her courtroom, I saw several divorce trials and grew to understand her aversion to this area of practice.  The issues were messy; the parties were bent on taking as much time as allowed to say the worst about each other; and there were no good answers for solving anyone’s problems.  For instance, how can a judge who has never met the children decide an appropriate parenting schedule for them?  Her task as judge was impossible. 

The judge did not succeed in her campaign to change my mind, however, and I landed a position in a law firm practicing family law after I left Superior Court.  My first family law mentor had a poster in his office that was a black and white photograph of a large building with the words “Divorce with Dignity” carved above the doorway.  Certainly, what I had seen as a bailiff in court had not been “divorce with dignity”, and I have spent the last fifteen years of my career trying to figure out what that means.

I have come to the conclusion that “Divorce with Dignity” is when both people in a divorce can stop their headlong pursuit of blaming the other person for everything.   There is enough blame to go around in any divorce for both people to be found guilty of undermining the relationship.  But a divorce is not about what happened in the past.  It is about the future and how both spouses will be able to move forward with their lives after the divorce is finished.

This shift in thinking is really hard for people going through a divorce.  It means both spouses have to take responsibility for the end of the marriage.  It means each of them has to care about what happens to the other person.  It means they have to let go of all of that anger and frustration and pain that has built up over time.  And, at the same time, they have to decide together how to create a life without the other person in it:   how to split the resources that used to be “ours”; how to parent children when they don’t live in the same household; and how each party will support himself without the other’s income. 

Sometimes people just cannot make this shift.  That is when you end up with those ugly divorces that most people want to avoid.  But when you can shift from “past” to “future” thinking, you can find a way to divorce with dignity.  And even when only one party succeeds in shedding the past, divorce with dignity is possible.

This blog is about the shift – about letting go of the past and looking into the future during a divorce.  It is hard work, but it is worth it.

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