Whether you call it a friendly divorce, an amicable divorce, collaborative divorce, or a conscious uncoupling, dealing with divorce is tough. Despite reading lots of divorce advice and divorce tips, the secret to a friendly divorce was never mentioned. Which is why I want to share the secret of my friendly divorce with you.
There are many ways to complete the legal divorce process from low-cost DIY options to messy legal battles with divorce attorneys. But, regardless of the legal hows of the divorce process, there are key actions you can take during your divorce to make it a more amicable divorce.
But first, let’s revisit the benefits of pursuing a friendly divorce.
Benefits of a Friendly Divorce
It is no secret a friendly or amicable divorce is better than a full throttle, no-holds-barred legal battle. However, I see four key benefits of a low-key, low-confrontation divorce.
- Faster Healing
- Healthier for Kids
- Less Time
- Lower Cost
The emotional turmoil generated by a divorce is tough. It is easily one of the top most stressful life events – right up there with having a child, moving, and changing jobs. Yet, regardless of how stressful the change is initially, it is still just a change.
As humans, we have an amazing compacity to adapt to our circumstances and move on. One term used to describe this ability is called hedonic adaptation or the hedonic treadmill. Per Wikipedia, hedonic adaptation is “is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.”
However, in high-conflict divorces, emotions will be churned up every time something new is “discovered” in the legal proceedings. Or one party takes an emotional action creating a huge wave of emotion – positive or negative – for the other party. This constant churning of strong emotions delays the process of hedonic adaptation and our adjustment to changes resulting from a divorce.
In a friendly divorce, all the emotion is still there, but the legal aspects are completed in a more cooperative environment. This environment helps keep actions thoughtful and, subsequently, emotions from spiking again and again, sometimes for months. Without the huge bursts of emotions on a sporadic basis, hedonic adaptation can occur faster. Allowing everyone to adjust and move on with new lives more quickly.
Healthier for Kids
One of the key things most divorce advice will promote is stability for kids. Many times this stability is focused on the physical environment of kids (which is important). However, I feel that the emotional stability of kids is more critical to their health and well-being during the divorce.
Because the actions of a friendly divorce are tempered and do not drag on for months, kids are not caught up in the emotional turmoil caused by emotional actions of their parents. This provides the emotional stability kids need during large life changes. I believe it was strong emotional stability for my kids that allowed them to adjust so well (and even move across state lines) within months of Rainbow, my ex-husband, and I divorcing.
As you will see in the tips below, a friendly divorce also demonstrates good communication and conflict resolution tactics for your kids. Rainbow and I would actively sit at our kitchen counter or on our deck and have calm discussions about various aspects of the divorce. (We did not involve the kids in the details and were aware of what was discussed on the topic when little ears were present.) While you may not be able to take your friendly divorce to this casual of a level, I would encourage you mentioning to your kids that “Mom and Dad are talking.”
No doubt a friendly divorce is a faster divorce!
I can’t speak to large statistical numbers, but my friendly divorce took only 5 months from the decision on July 3rd to the finalization on December 5th. This included a 60 day mandatory waiting period after we filed our petition and obtaining a court date for a non-contested divorce.
Based on discussions with other divorcees over the past few months, friendly divorces seem to follow the trend of around 6 -9 months from start to finish. For those folks I have spoken to in less-than-friendly divorce situations, this is at least half the time of high-conflict situations. Some individuals I have spoken to have had divorce proceedings lasting upwards of 3 years! Uck! No thank you.
In addition to all the above benefits, friendly divorces seem to have a lower cost. How low depends on the legal divorce process chosen.
Per a 2006 Forbes article, the average cost of divorce is between $15,000 – $30,000. Ouch! I don’t know about you, but I would rather spend my money on something fun.
All said and done, my friendly divorce cost roughly $4,500. Not too shabby compared to the numbers above. We even wasted (more below on why) about a grand on a Certified Financial Divorce Analyst.
How to Have a Friendly Divorce
Knowing why we want a friendly divorce is motivational, but without the “how” to have a friendly divorce it can just be depressing.
Based on my own life and various divorce advice articles, below are the 5 key areas critical to making a friendly divorce reality.
1) Focus on the Future
While very easy (and tempting) to wallow in the past and moan over the life lost, focusing on the future is important for both mental and legal reasons. Processing what went wrong and why that caused the marriage to fail is necessary – but not during the thick of legal things.
Ideally, being ready to move on and recognizing the positive that will come of the divorce is best before the legal process. However, it may not be possible based on your situation.
During the legal divorce process strive to look forward at what you want in life and what is best for any children involved. List out your individual life goals (i.e. starting a business, early retirement, going back for more education) and prioritize the most critical aspects of your life now (i.e. kid’s schools remaining the same, the family home, maintaining a career, etc.). Knowing what you want in the future and what is most important right now will help guide you to make logical and rational decisions when determining the financial division and parental responsibilities in your divorce.
Focusing on the future and understanding all parties goals and priorities also derails powerplays. It shifts the focus from who “wins” to “how are everyone’s needs best met.”
2) Involve the Right People
No doubt about it, having the right people involved makes a world of difference. A handful of the right professionals can ease the process tremendously. On the other hand, the wrong folks can make it unbearable!
Who To Include
Consider inviting the following professionals to assist with your divorce:
- Mediation or Collaborative Lawyers
- Family and/or Individual Therapist
- Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA)
- Financial Planner
- Real Estate Agent or Appraiser
- Divorce Support Group
This list of professionals are just suggestions. You may want all or just a couple involved. Regardless, be sure you interview and select professionals based on their perspectives of the divorce process, communication styles, and overall experience with amicable divorces.
I interviewed at least four lawyers before settling on the lawyer Rainbow and I used to complete the paperwork of the divorce. I asked the following general questions of each divorce lawyer I spoke with.
Through these questions, I gleaned a whole host of information, especially the experience and philosophy questions. Due to the reason for the divorce being my husband is gay, the level of animosity between us was minimal. We needed a legal party able to work with us for the benefit of both – within a legal system set-up for adversarial divorces. We needed professionals willing to approach asset division, support payment structures, parenting plans, and open, inclusive communication of all parties outside of “the norm”.
Despite our best efforts, we did encounter one professional whose initial interview and presentation of philosophy did not ultimately jive with our desires. The Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) we hired appeared, at first blush, to be on-point with our perspective of finances. Three meetings into the process (with little to no significant progress) glaring differences became apparent between what he said he stood for and what his actions shouted. Our engagement with this CDFA caused serious distress for both Rainbow and me. Needless to say, we quickly released him from providing further services for our divorce.
Who NOT to Include
Finally, I would be remiss in my advice if I didn’t mention NOT involving certain people in the process. Well-meaning family and friends will weigh-in with their opinions and suggestions. Don’t listen! They are not you. They don’t understand all the nuances of your life, desires, and relationship with your soon-to-be former spouse.
Family and friends are a definite must in the divorce process, but only as a set of listening ears. If they become more than listening ears, they will plant ideas and paths to a resolution that have great potential to derail your friendly divorce. I heard from multiple supportive family and friends to expect it to “get ugly” or “take forever”. However, their stereotypes and experiences just did not apply to my life.
3) Establish Communication Guidelines
Communication, communication, communication! I can not emphasize enough how critical good communication is.
When you are first starting the process, agree to when, where, who will be involved, and how often you will discuss the details of the divorce. Be sure to use productive conversation techniques too.
My divorce did not necessarily establish ground rules for communication. Rainbow and I would discuss divorce details in many locations, times and at sporadic intervals. In hindsight, we would have been much better off to set when, where, who, and how often to ensure each party was properly prepared to have effective discussions. Involving the right people from the start would have helped us in this area.
Fortunately, our general, healthy communication style and knowing how to have difficult conversations saved our bacon (or friendly divorce in this case).
4) Focus on Facts not Feelings
Tied tightly into good communication is focusing on facts not feelings. When you are having discussions about the divorce, especially those involving money, ensuring you focus on facts is key.
The reason you are divorcing is emotional. Impacts on kids are emotional. Redefining or losing friendships is emotional. Money is emotional. Learning to live on your own is emotional. Throughout all these changes keeping the facts in mind helps keep emotions level. The why (and all the accompanying emotions) behind the facts will attempt to creep in – fight back! It is what it is; the why is not important during the legal process.
Additionally, you need to expect lifestyle changes for both parties. Things will look and feel different for a while. Keep in mind, it is all temporary! I’m still in the midst of these lifestyle changes and remind myself regularly that, “This too shall pass.”
Constantly bringing to focus the facts of the situation also helps you to “keep it clean”. Remember, you have to look yourself in the eye every morning. Having the right people involved will greatly assist with keeping the facts first and taking actions reflecting those facts.
5) Take Your Time
While the legal side of my divorce only took 5 months start to finish, the process started long before when my husband told me he is bisexual. Unbeknownst to all family and friends that knew us, Rainbow and I had struggled with his changing sexuality and impacts to our marriage for months before we shared with others.
It will be very tempting to rush through the legal process and “get it over with”. However, science has proven when we experience strong emotions (like those generated during a divorce) we are literally unable to access the portions of our brain that allow logical and rational thinking.
What “taking your time” looks like for you will vary from mine or anyone else’s. I have heard most divorcees establish a new normal after about a year and a half. In the meantime, a few tips I would give are:
- Breathe! When a big fact comes to light or you are feeling rushed, stop and take a few deep breaths.
- Take a break. Be sure throughout the divorce process to give yourself a break. Intentionally do activities that you can wholely submerse yourself in mentally, emotionally, and physically. These activities may be a hobby you have or a new, unique experience.
- Be social. Get out and talk to people – even when you don’t feel like.
- Take care of yourself. Engage in daily activities to boost your mood!
Bottomline for a Friendly Divorce
By now you may have noticed a trend in the above “how to” portion of my divorce advice. Some of my divorce tips related to the legal how, some to the personal how, and some to general communication. But can you see the underlying trend they all point to?
Upon reflection of my own friendly divorce journey and researching general amicable divorce tips, the common theme I see is managing emotions. Keep in mind…
Emotions are temporary, actions are forever.
If you can actively address and manage your emotions during the divorce process, the odds of a friendly divorce increase. All of the advice above and most that you will find online are actions you can take to manage emotions. Management of both your emotions and your soon-to-be former spouse’s emotions will ease the process an allow greater ability to take thoughtful action.
I will be the first to admit I was not always the best at managing my emotions during the divorce process, especially anger. For a long time, I refused to even acknowledge my anger and disguised it under a cloak of sadness.
Yet, this denial of my real feelings resulted in seeping anger. I would do and say things (actions) as expressions of the anger and fear I was hiding from myself. I can’t say I could always look myself in the eye every morning for a while. My therapist assured me what I was saying and doing was nothing unusual or anything to feel guilty about. (However, guilt is a real bitch – and looks different for everyone.)
Thankfully Rainbow, my ex-husband, continued to be who he always was and traveled the path of living amends. The idea of living amends being one positive thing to come of our awful marriage therapy experiences. Living amends is more than just apologizing for past wrongs. It is actively living and taking authentic action to improve your life and the lives of those hurt by past wrongs.
While the “wrong” committed against me was not intentional (Rainbow did not know he is gay when we married), his lack of personal reflection has caused harm to me and the kids.
The Secret to a Friendly Divorce
However, the real secret to a friendly divorce goes beyond the management of emotions. The secret to a friendly divorce is acceptance of responsibility for the divorce.
The secret to a friendly divorce lies in one or both parties accepting responsibility for the divorce.
It’s more than an acknowledgment, but it doesn’t need to be an apology either.
Somehow, some way, the acceptance of responsibility for a divorce has the amazing power to defuse much of the anger associated with a divorce. Anger being a prime reason for wanting to “get even” or “win” in some of the division of assets or punishment of an ex-spouse through less time with kids, charging up debt, or spreading rumors.
If you are the spouse responsible for the divorce, man up! Accept responsibility for your divorce.
If you are the spouse feeling wronged, I would advise you to also examine your behaviors and determine what you can do differently in future relationships. Even though my divorce was due to my ex-husband’s repressed sexuality, there were still indicators I ignored that something wasn’t quite right in my marriage.
Marriages fail for a variety of reasons ranging from infidelity, addiction/abuse, or just general malaise from both parties. When these reasons are expressed it is often in personal terms (I.e. She/he did [blank] to me) which creates a sense of victimhood or in harsh terms of blame (I.e. If he/she hadn’t [blank], I’d still be married).
Even if the primary responsibility for your divorce lies with your spouse (and they do not accept responsibility) do yourself a favor – acknowledge the reason for the divorce in descriptive, not judgemental terms. Simply shifting how you express the reason(s) for your divorce to more factual terms removes the emotion. Factual phrasing allows you to not feel anger or other hurtful emotions everytime you think or talk about your divorce, making room for faster emotional healing. It frees you to focus on how you are taking back control of your life and moving forward.
The secret to a friendly divorce is in descriptive, not judgmental, acknowledgment of the reason for divorce.
I was fortunate, Rainbow accepts responsibility for the divorce. He readily acknowledges – and apologized for – his lack of self-reflection causing him to overlook such a huge part of who he is as a person. And while I was still angry, I was not angry at him. I was angry at the situation. I was angry with how the facts presented themselves. I was angry about the dissolution of what I considered my authentic life in order that he might live an authentic life.
Every one of us deserves the opportunity to live an authentic and emotionally whole life!
Regardless of the reason for your divorce, recognizing neither you (nor your spouse) can live an authentic life within your current marriage is yet another secret to a friendly divorce. Be honest with yourself, if your spouse is not fully engaged and committed to your marriage, how can you be living authentically?
The secret to a friendly divorce is recognizing you are not able to live an authentic life in your current marriage.
Grasp your divorce as an opportunity to carpe diem, manage your emotions throughout the process, and enjoy the benefits of a friendly divorce.