I can highlight a multitude of examples of how reducing conflict will help you, but I only have room for two quick examples. First, in cases involving children, parents often forget or simply do not realize that even after the divorce is granted, they will have to deal with their ex-spouse for years to come as parents to their children. For this reason, you should do everything you can to work with your spouse to resolve your case without bitter litigation. Second is lawyers’ bills. The less time an attorney spends on your file, the less your divorce will cost. In other words, less conflict equals a smaller attorney bill.
In cases where the parties cannot resolve their case on their own, I have found the best way to resolve cases in an amicable fashion is through mediation. Mediation is a process by which a neutral, trained, third party (the mediator) works to settle your case. As I have heard many judges say, “When a judge decides a divorce case, it is like performing surgery with a chainsaw. When the parties control the process through a mechanism such as mediation, they are using a scalpel.”
The following paragraphs are written to provide simple, and not always obvious, concepts to help you settle your case efficiently and effectively, thereby reducing the conflict in your divorce.
1. Be prepared. Negotiation will be wasted and bad feelings can be fostered when you and your spouse do not have a clear picture of your assets and liabilities, respective incomes, needs, and what expenses exist surrounding the children. Without clear financial documentation, you can easily spend time and money haggling over what might be non-issues.
Before any mediation, you and your spouse must prepare a historically accurate budget of your monthly expenses, normally in the form of a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit. You should exchange all documents, such as bank and other account statements, pay stubs, tax returns, insurance plans, pension information, etc., to provide a complete picture of your and your spouse’s financial situation.
With respect to child support, you and your spouse should gather documentation about costs for extracurricular activities, daycare, after-school care and possible summer camps ahead of time. This helps, for example, to avoid spending time and money arguing about how much day care actually costs.
2. Be prepared emotionally. Being prepared does not just mean getting a handle on the financial situation. Once you are satisfied that you have a complete understanding of your and your spouse’s assets and liabilities, you need to prepare yourself emotionally. This can take several forms. Often, you need to discuss your anger or depression with a counselor in order to be able to put those feelings aside and negotiate in your own best interest. You need to be able to swallow your pride and focus on the future, rather than on any feelings of vindictiveness or pain.
3. Be prepared intellectually. You should listen to your attorney’s advice or recommendation about realistic outcomes in court. For example, if you insist at the outset that your spouse pay the college expenses of your children, you need to understand that a court will not order your spouse to pay for college expenses in an original divorce action. Understanding that college expenses are a concession that you hope to gain from your spouse at mediation rather than a “right” that you might give up, you will have a more realistic view of the situation, be able to focus your attention on the most important issues, and avoid conflict on issues that are not obtainable.
4. Try to understand your spouse’s position. By being prepared, you will hopefully be able to understand your spouses’ position, at least as it relates to the finances.
If your spouse has taken a certain position in the negotiations, just ask why. Taking the position that a request is unreasonable and rejecting it outright simply creates more conflict. Understanding the reasoning behind a request often leads to problem solving. For example, if your spouse demands that he or she be given additional time to make a payment to you, it may be that he or she is currently struggling to cover day-to-day expenses until a certain marital bill is paid.
Patrick “Leh” Meriwether is a happily married Cherokee County resident and a partner in the law firm Meriwether & Tharp, LLC. He is a certified mediator and arbitrator. His practice focuses primarily on Family Law and Divorce. His firm posts information weekly about different areas of family law on the firm’s blog, www.atlantadivorceattorneyblog.com