Despite a couple’s best intentions and hopes for a happily ever after together, divorce can happen to anyone (see: Tom and Gisele). And not only is the divorce process difficult to navigate emotionally, there are also a lot of logistics that couples often get wrong or don’t know about when it comes to the divorce process. If you’re thinking about or discussing divorce and wondering what that process will entail, below, divorce lawyers cover the six things couples should know about getting a divorce.
1. Don’t wait too long to hire a divorce lawyer
Marcia Mavrides, a Boston-based divorce lawyer for Mavrides Law, says couples contemplating divorce may understandably experience fear of the unknown, such as what their post-divorce life will look like, how the laws will apply to their situation, and how their finances will be impacted. That fear often holds people back from talking to a divorce attorney right away, but Mavrides says that’s precisely the reason why you should consult with one sooner rather than later. “An experienced attorney can apply your set of facts to the law and give you some perspective on how to move forward,” she explains. So the right time to speak with a divorce attorney is as soon as you are seriously considering a divorce.
2. Understand the general divorce process
The process can seem daunting and confusing if you’ve never been through a divorce. Having a basic understanding of how things will flow can help ease some of that overwhelm. While the process will differ based on where you live and your specific situation, Julia Rodgers, a Massachusetts family law attorney and CEO of HelloPrenup, says typically, a divorce can include: mediation, collaborative law, negotiation, and litigation.
“Mediation is an amicable way to work through issues in a divorce, including asset division, child support, spousal support, and child custody,” Rodgers explains. Divorce mediation, she adds, is led by a certified mediator, who acts as a neutral third party to help the couple find a mutually satisfactory resolution. They don’t, however, make decisions or provide legal advice.
Collaborative law, which differs by state, generally allows spouses to communicate openly and work together to reach an amicable settlement outside of court. “Each spouse must hire an attorney certified in collaborative law,” she says. “Additional professionals may be involved throughout this process, including accountants, counselors, or appraisers. If the spouses agree, the attorneys will prepare a written agreement and present it to the court for approval.”
The divorce process also includes negotiation, which Rodgers notes can be conducted directly between spouses or through their attorneys. The latter is often preferred, Rodgers says, as discussing divorce with your spouse can be emotionally challenging. If a couple can’t agree on all the material terms of the divorce, it goes to litigation, Rodgers says, which means you’ll go to court and have a judge decide for you. Taking the litigation route, however, is the most emotionally draining and time-consuming way to get divorced.
3. Litigation is more expensive than you think
Many people are aware that divorce is a costly process. Still, Rodgers says most aren’t aware of just how expensive it can be, especially when there is litigation involved. “Most people don’t understand how much litigation costs, so they enter the divorce process planning to fight with no idea of how much they will be spending,” she says. “Very quickly, they realize the emotional and financial cost associated.”
4. No one truly ‘wins’ the divorce
In some cases, litigation during a divorce is necessary, but if possible, Rodgers recommends avoiding it. “Don’t waste time trying to fight because nobody wins,” she says. “You will not ‘win’ if you use your attorney as a weapon to wage war against your spouse. Doing so will only further fracture your family and hurt your children.” So if there are emotional issues between the divorcing spouses, Rodgers advises working through those with a good therapist and not with your lawyer.
5. Divorce takes longer than you expect
Another thing couples often get wrong about divorce is assuming it’ll be a quick process. “Whether you divorce amicably by mediation or choose to litigate, you will not get divorced in a matter of weeks or even a few months,” Rodgers says. “In most states, courts are backlogged with cases, and processing times will take longer than you expect.” In other words, be patient.
6. Protect yourself before a divorce
One thing that can help make a divorce process as smooth as possible is signing a prenuptial agreement before you get married. Rodgers says everyone can benefit from a prenup, whether you have a few assets or a high net worth. “A prenup allows you and your fiancé to decide for yourselves if you would like your assets, debt, and inheritance to be considered marital/community property or separate property after marriage,” she says. “If you don’t get a prenup, your state’s laws will decide for you.”
And if you’re already married and didn’t sign a prenup before tying the knot, there’s another option available: a postnup. Similar to a prenup, Rodgers says a postnup allows couples to decide how they want marital or community property to be divided if they get divorced down the road. However, she notes that courts tend to scrutinize postnups more so than prenups because they’re often (but not always) created as a cure for marital issues such as infidelity or financial difficulties. So, when possible, it’s best to sign a prenup before the “I dos.”