What Can You Actually Control In Your Divorce?


First a few caveats about what “control” means in the context of your divorce process. You are only going to be able to control yourself, so this is not going to be about magically influencing other people. To a large degree, you are not going to be able to control your soon-to-be-ex-spouse. You are not going to be able to control court deadlines and requirements. You are not going to be able to control the competing schedules and viewpoints of attorneys, mediators, experts, and whoever else is involved in your divorce. But don’t underestimate the empowering momentum of putting your own house in order – anyone who’s ever organized a kitchen “junk drawer” recognizes that very basic feeling. This is kind of like that, but obviously with more at stake than untangling a knot of power cords. It’s a common place to be in the divorce process, and here are a few steps within your control that can leave you feeling like an active participant in your divorce instead of a passive bystander.  

Get Focused

A mindset oriented toward moving forward and focusing on the future, rather than rehashing past emotional battles, is a valuable asset in a divorce. Often that mindset involves making decisions that favor financial considerations over emotional ones. Sounds so sanctimoniously easy, right? We are sufficiently self-aware to know it’s not always so easy for everyone. But there are some things that can make it easier. 

Finding a mental healthcare professional to help you is a great start for many people. Controlling the influences you allow around you is also helpful – your friend’s divorce is not your divorce and what was important to him or her may not be valuable to you, or even available to you given your circumstances. You need supportive and positive people in your “foxhole” when you need them to be, but who will also give you space to think and figure things out in a way that makes sense for you and your family. Figure out what helps you feel sane and steady (most days) and do more of that. 

Information is Power

This tidbit has several applications. First, it’s easy to fall into roles during your marriage. One spouse handles the payment of bills, investments, and home repairs. The other’s niche includes all matters involving the children, family insurance, estate planning, or whatever applicable division of labor. Yet, when the marriage breaks down, subdivision becomes something of a lost luxury. You need to learn about all the components that comprised your married life so you can make smart and informed decisions about them in your divorce. Your attorney will help you through this process and sometimes, in complicated financial matters, an expert will also help get you up to speed. But learning the information in an invested and active way empowers you to make informed decisions about your life. 

This brings us to another related point, make sure you understand – and agree with – the positions your attorney takes on your behalf. Your attorney is speaking for you and in many instances telling people (such as your spouse’s attorney, or even the judge) what you want. That is one narrative you definitely want to understand and control. Often in family law what you are “entitled” to is based on a weighing of equitable circumstances, often resulting in subjective results. However, what you personally want or value to settle your case is often a more defined guidepost, and certainly one more relevant to you. Identifying those metrics involves good communication with your attorney. You also need to pivot when positions and goals you defined early on in your case no longer represent more current objectives and information. As the song goes, you can’t always get what you want, but once you are at the point of being able to define what is valuable to you personally, you start to get what you need to move forward, toward closure on your terms.

Setting the Tone

The voluminous and expensive letters exchanged between counsel in your divorce are signed by someone you hired to speak for you. Do you understand why they are being sent, and the purpose or strategy behind them? Other times your attorney has to prepare a Certification or other pleading you then endorse with your signature. Does the writing sound like you? Does the explanation of the facts, concerns, and objectives resonate with you? These communications cost you money and adopt positions on your behalf. On certain levels they represent your “voice” in your divorce and may be the first impression a judge or mediator has of you. You should not only understand the communications made on your behalf but also be comfortable with their tone. Talk to your attorney about the way information is presented if you feel at odds with it. Sometimes the way something is said is as important as the message imparted. You do not want poor communication to impede the greater goal of resolution.

Divorce is always a situation where you lose some sense of control, and these steps are not intended as a quick fix for the perfect divorce. Hopefully, though, following them invites a saner divorce process where you feel represented in every sense of the word. In a time of divorce, where so much seems out of your control, it’s worth your time and energy to focus on the things you can control, and the best ways to make them work for you.

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