Step #1: Acknowledge that your marriage doesn’t work. Part of the sense of tragedy and loss in divorce comes from the feeling that you could still have your hoped-for marriage (a) if only you could make it work, (b) if the hopes you had in creating the marriage could still be realized, or (c) if some miracle, added effort, or a missing ingredient could turn your marriage around. Part of being at peace with the decision to divorce, and the need to go through the pain and financial consequences, comes from recognizing and accepting the aspects of the marriage that do not work for you or your spouse. Both of you must be satisfied with the marriage for it to continue. Once the process begins, it helps to be free from doubts about whether to divorce. If you still have hopes or illusions of saving your marriage, you’ll find yourself in an emotionally impossible situation and you’ll make confusing decisions.
Step #2: Step back from this crisis and identify your core values. Review this step with a counselor as you proceed through the divorce. These issues deserve your attention:
(1) Your goals to fulfill your own physical, financial, and emotional needs;
(2) Your goals for the children;
(3) Your priority for providing your children with the nurturing, loving, and parenting you want them to have;
(4) Your children’s strengths and weaknesses and what they need for support and nurturing from each parent;
(5) The resources each parent can provide to the children;
(6) How your children’s parenting could be arranged to get the best from both of you in giving the children what they need;
(7) How much effort you can give toward your children getting the example you want them to have of resolving conflicts, working cooperatively, and creating accomplishments.
Step #3: Respect the emotional injuries. Deal with them first. Recognize they occurred and you continue to feel them and act out of them. Find a therapist or friend you can rely on to help you heal emotionally. Have him help you separate your emotional process and your emotional upset from the business decisions needed in the divorce. Develop at least the following steps in your emotional recovery plan.
(1) Develop the friendships, emotional support, and activities to help carry you through a year of birthdays, holidays and events without your spouse. Also, friends can help you handle upsets, depression, sadness, and outrage so each is not taken out on the children or others, shouted at your spouse, or shared with a new lover in the early stages of the relationship;
(2) Deal with any need to place blame and guilt. Understand how your use of blame and guilt perpetuates your injury and consequently your children’s injury. Learn to make other choices and respond in different ways to your spouse.
(3) Use this failed relationship to understand how to enjoy the next one successfully by identifying your power, choices, and responsibilities in helping this relationship to achieve less than it promised;
(4) Separate your spouse from your spouse’s misconduct and forgive the spouse, being careful not to make the misconduct okay or open any chance for further misconduct. Let any need to seek retribution for the injuries go; and possibly
(5) Own your mistakes and apologize for them and the pain they caused.
Step #4: Hire an attorney who can help you with mediation, arbitration, negotiations or trial. Be sure that the attorney understands family law, has skills in problem solving, the emotional process, psychology of reconciliation, and child development.
Step #5: Tell friends and family about your decision to divorce. Help remove them from the divorce by supporting their continued relationship with your spouse and with you. Their relationship and their family friendships do not have to be changed or destroyed because of your need to change yours. They do not have to choose between loyalties to your spouse and loyalties to you.
Step #6: Study and create the boundaries you need as a separate and independent person. You need to have separate living space and privacy. You need control over your own financial and business affairs. You need to be free from the consequences of your spouse’s finances and business affairs. You need to know that your possessions are safe. You need to know how your children are being cared for, where they are, how to communicate with them, and how decisions are being made about their care. These boundaries give you safety. That safety helps stop the need to fight, to blame, and to avoid being blamed. As lovers, you dissolved many of these boundaries, but now it is essential that you rebuild them.
Step #7: Gather all the information you can. Collect statements reporting the values on debts and assets. Get estimates of present fair market value. Gather all documents of title, deeds, insurance, retirement, profit sharing, deferred compensation, stocks and bonds. Get copies of your last three years’ state and federal tax returns. List the value of personal property. Identify what property each of you brought to the marriage and what property either of you obtained after the marriage.
Prepare this information in three lists:-
(1) The assets and debts each of you brought to the marriage.
(2) The assets and debts you have at the time of separation.
(3) The assets and debts you want each of you to have when everything is divided. For assets, use the present fair market value or the value you could get in cash if you advertised and sold the assets within a reasonable period — 3-6 months for a house. Be sure to include the secured debts, such as the house and car loans. For personal belongings and furniture, use what you would expect to receive in a garage sale.
Step #8: Consider limiting your credit risk. At the proper time, you should stop any possible charges on your credit by your spouse and set up separate checking accounts.
The Following Steps involve gathering information that may help in mediation, settlement negotiations, arbitration, or trial. However, this needs to be done with limits. Even then, gathering these facts may be too difficult or emotionally explosive to continue. Go only as far as you can while making positive progress.
Step #9: In any discussion with your spouse, use the following rules either by agreement or simply following them for yourself.
(1) Stop when either person first begins to become upset. Once upset, we do and say what we feel we need to say to protect ourselves from blame, guilt, or other perceived injury without regard for the injury we may cause the other person. Stop at the first signs of someone becoming upset. Understand that you will continue later, within a day or two, when the upset has passed.
(2) Use your own health as a compass guiding your direction and decisions. We usually know what builds our own health and what threatens it.
(3) Identify generally the things that you and your spouse will need to accomplish to have a separate household, financial independence, the ability to pay your necessary expenses and obligations, and to help care for and parent your children.
(4) Don’t allow yourself to be forced into a quick answer. Reflect your spouse’s question or concern by restating the gist of it, like this: “I understand you want (then restate what she said)…” Or “I understand your are concerned about (then restate what she said). This raises serious and important issues. I’ll need some time to think about this before I respond.” This approach acknowledges your spouse’s concern, confirms that you will respond, and buys time for you to consider the issues.
Step #10: Discuss your things.
(1) Identify the things you and your spouse want without discussing why or how badly.
(2) If you can discuss the why without becoming upset; and, if it would be helpful to understand, then discuss it.
(3) Identify how you can help your spouse give the children the parenting they need.
(4) Identify how you can help your spouse get the things that she needs — and that you don’t want or need.
(5) Use this cooperation to calm fears and build confidence that you can and will cooperate to fairly resolve the tough issues.
Step #11: Discuss how you can live in two households and raise your children together. Most divorcing people continue their hopes, values, and goals for their children’s success. Most people have a deep core commitment to their children. Marriages usually fail because of problems with intimacy, emotions, close cooperation, problem solving, and differing expectations. Living in two separate households and ending sexual intimacy often solves most or all of the relationship problems. After intimacy problems have ended, parents can often become very effective at communicating and cooperating in raising their children.
(1) Start small. Discuss your and your spouse’s hopes, expectations, and logistical needs in giving the children the time and parenting they need. Discuss one issue at a time and attempt to seek a practical resolution. Try the discussed resolution and see how it works with the understanding that you may try something different later. Find some small successes first. Deal with easier issues first and save the hard ones for later after you share some successes.
(2) Identify the most intense disagreements and save them for later.
(3) Review the things you can agree on in taking care of the children. The children need both you and your spouse; and they need ready access to both of you depending, initially, upon their needs and, later, on a schedule they get used to. The children need to know that (1) you both love them, (2) they are not responsible for the divorce, (3) the two of you cannot live together, (4) the two of you will never live together again, and (5) the decision made about their care. The children need to understand that the divorce is their parents’ joint and permanent decision. They need to know it is not their fault.
(4) Review the things the children need and what each of you can contribute to their care.
(5) Note disagreements clearly as disagreements and not as right and wrong attitudes. Don’t try to solve the disagreements. Just try to understand the differences as clearly and exactly as you can.
Step #12: Discuss what each household needs to work physically and financially. What pots and pans do you need? How many sheets and pillow cases will you need? Who gets which beds? How much will it cost to run your household? How can you cover those expenses? Both of you should prepare a Financial Information Statement and give it to the other spouse.
Step #13: Discuss what is fair to allow your transition from marriage to independence. How soon can you and your spouse be financially self-supporting and independent? What plans do each of you have? What do each of you need to achieve independence? How will the house and retirement savings be distributed so both of you have independence and a fair financial base to face your short- and long-term futures.
Step #14: Decide whether you can use mediation, must go to trial, or negotiate and settle. Look for and hire an attorney who can help you with the method you prefer.
Step #15: Acknowledge that you are both good people who find it too difficult to continue your marriage.
Step #16: Affirm your desire to continue your partnership as friends in the business of raising your children. You will conduct business just like any other business partnership. You will communicate important material, make decisions together, cooperate to help the other meet his immediate needs, while providing the best love, teaching, and caring for your children that the two of you can offer.