Don’t Worry, Be Happy: How to Set the Stage for an Amicable Divorce
By: Christine Powers Leatherberry, Connatser Family Law
Getting a divorce is never easy, but opting to settle marital and child custody disputes amicably typically helps couples save time, money and unnecessary emotional duress. If pursuing an amicable divorce is preferable to you, consider talking through the following strategies with your divorce attorney.
No. 1: Set a positive tone early on.
When setting the stage for an amicable divorce, it’s typically best to personally tell your spouse you want a divorce, so they aren’t surprised. During that conversation, it can also be helpful to explain that you want to settle the divorce amicably, keep legal fees low and treat him or her fairly. Hearing these sentiments can help put the opposing party’s mind at ease.
No. 2: Follow through on promises to be amicable and fair.
Actions speak louder than words. For example, making sure your spouse has enough money in the bank to hire a divorce attorney and pay for expenses speaks volumes. Draining financial accounts and closing out credit cards, so the other party has no money for legal costs and basic needs, will almost guarantee a contentious divorce.
No. 3: Be transparent about your plans
If you are considered the monied spouse in the marriage, being transparent regarding how you plan to provide for the non-monied spouse following a divorce can go a long way toward easing the blow of divorce. For example, someone who has been a homemaker for 30 years and has a minimal grasp of finances may be understandably frightened when their spouse files for divorce.
In this scenario, the right thing to do may be to pay spousal maintenance or alimony for a period of time, even if the spouse wouldn’t necessarily qualify for that support under the law. Doing so can help set the stage for an amicable divorce and an amicable relationship going forward.
No. 4: Try to resolve differences directly with your spouse
In most cases, couples who get along and make agreements are more likely to avoid going to court. That doesn’t mean you don’t need a divorce attorney to ensure the legal aspects of your case are handled properly, but hashing out issues one-on-one, without lawyers involved, can help keep legal fees and emotions in check. It can also keep the divorce process moving along in an expeditious manner.
No. 5: Proactively communicate about children’s needs and be willing to trade time with each other
Child custody and possession schedules can become a bone of contention when parents don’t strive to co-parent amicably during (and after) a divorce. Shared calendars like Our Family Wizard or even a basic Google calendar can help keep everyone on the same page. Diligently sharing information about doctor visits and school activities, as well as making sure the child’s homework folder goes back and forth between homes, can help reduce the likelihood of conflict.
We also encourage clients to be sensitive to the other parent’s desire to spend time with children during special events and holidays. For example, you could invite the other parent to go trick-or-treating with you as a family for Halloween or offer to share a couple of hours on Christmas morning. Extending the olive branch can buy considerable goodwill going forward.
No. 6: Utilize outside experts to resolve conflicts
No matter how well you and your spouse get along, divorce can still be emotionally trying for both the adults and children. It’s also unlikely that the two of you will agree on how to resolve every issue.
Instead of going to court, a family counselor or clergy member can be a great resource to help adults and kids deal with emotional struggles and provide children with the tools they need to cope.
Many couples rely on parent coordinators, parent facilitators, and even education consultants to help sort through or negotiate concerns regarding children’s medical, extracurricular, vacation, tutoring, schooling and other needs. These professionals can help couples overcome roadblocks and avoid going to court.
No. 7: Evaluate “friendly” divorce options with your attorney
In Texas, most judges require couples to go through mediation before going to court to litigate a divorce. If you’re hoping to settle your divorce amicably, mediation is a great place to attempt to resolve your case. Instead of relying on a judge to make decisions regarding your case, with mediation, couples work with a mediator (often a former family court judge) to help facilitate their divorce agreement.
Collaborative divorce is another option available to couples in the state of Texas. Unlike mediation – where couples typically sit in separate rooms and an impartial intermediary bounces back and forth attempting to negotiate an agreement – during the collaborative process, couples sit down together with their respective attorneys to hash out the details of their divorce.
Seek out a family law attorney who supports your goals
If your goal is to end your marriage as gently and fairly as possible, be wary of divorce lawyers who discourage you from trying to work things out. Instead, seek out an attorney who is experienced in negotiating both amicable and contentious divorces and knowledgeable regarding strategies involved in mediation and collaborative law.
About the Author: Attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry sees herself as a family lawyer on a mission – to help clients gain control over an unfamiliar process and make divorce more manageable and understandable for everyone involved. The family law attorney understands that her clients are going through difficult times, whether they are experiencing a divorce, child custody or visitation matter, or splitting the family business. Often family law clients must work through stages of grief while trying to create a secure foundation for their new lives.