When you’ve tried everything to save your marriage and finally arrived at the tough decision that it’s time to let go, you are at a pivotal point in many ways. What lies ahead can feel intimidating and overwhelming. But how you proceed from the beginning can make an enormous difference in how everyone moves forward—how smoothly the process goes; whether it is calm or contentious, respectful or bitter; and how quickly you can get on with healing.
Not every marriage ends amicably, and sometimes, the court needs to get involved. But you can prepare so that you give yourself the best possible chance at a peaceful process, a satisfying resolution, and a healthy start to your new life.
First, what does amicable divorce mean? It doesn’t mean it will be painless—the end of a marriage is agonizing, and there’s rarely a way around that. It doesn’t mean you’ll be best friends with your ex (though some couples manage to remain friends). It simply means you agree to settle the significant matters—custody, support, division of assets—without litigation. You agree to agree. You commit to a productive truce. Ultimately this gives you much more control over the outcome than going to court. Negotiating a reasonable agreement is almost always easier on everyone than battling it out in court.
At the moment, though—when you’re feeling hurt, angry, devastated, even hopeless—you may be wondering how that’s even possible.
Whether you’ve decided to leave or already agreed that divorce is necessary, it’s essential to know that California is a no-fault divorce state which means that when one or both partners have decided the marriage is over, they can proceed with a divorce. There’s no need to show a cause for the split or prove someone is “at fault” nor do you need your spouse to consent to the divorce. Though no-fault is a legal term, it can benefit you emotionally, too—by helping you set aside the mindset of blame.
Separate business and feelings. It’s important to recognize that your divorce has two facets—emotional and logistical. They’re intertwined because your lives are intertwined. But the law is only concerned with the business of your dissolution. When you separate your feelings from the necessary negotiations, you can help bring calm and integrity to your breakup. You’re more likely to have a smooth process if you remain rational and level-headed.
Accept your feelings. To separate emotions and logistics, you must acknowledge, accept, and deal with the powerful range of feelings you’re experiencing. Loss, rage, pain, guilt, disappointment, resentment, fear—it’s all real and valid. It can be helpful to seek therapy.
Strive for clarity. When a marriage falls apart, it’s rarely one-sided. Typically, both parties share some responsibility for what went wrong. Honesty, self-reflection, and owning accountability for your part can diffuse a great deal of tension. Try to find balance—don’t blame your partner, but don’t beat yourself up. Practice forgiving the other person and yourself. Try to see your spouse’s perspective and cultivate empathy.
Take the high road. When you’re angry and resentful, trying to win at all costs is tempting to punish the other person. Bitter competition, point scoring, and giving into hostility may feel empowering for a moment. Still, they won’t bring grace and smoothness to the process; in the big picture, they aren’t the path of growth and healing for yourself either.
Focus on your shared values and priorities—particularly your family. Especially if you have children, it’s crucial to provide stability and peace for them during this difficult time, to surround them with love and support. That means striving to rise above negative emotions, like the urge to fight and put your spouse down. Model for your kids that people can collaborate and act with respect even in challenging times. Remember that your divorce is not the end of your family. You’re laying the groundwork for its new shape. Choose not to make custody and visitation your biggest battleground. Try to work together to create a co-parenting plan that is best for your children.
Keep communication open. Shutting down can breed distrust, drag out the divorce process, and make co-parenting much harder. Keep the channel open even if you have to go through a mediator or communicate only in writing. Be willing to listen.
Self-care is crucial. Take time to do things that make you feel good and boost your physical and mental health. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family.
Practical matters. When you’re preparing to leave your marriage—mainly if you’ve decided on your own—there are basic steps you should follow to facilitate a smooth process. If you’re in danger, make a safety plan and leave. If it’s not an emergency, it’s advisable to take time to sort out logistics rather than pack up and go. Familiarize yourself with the laws in your state. Gather essential documents, and keep records. Plan for your post-divorce financial future: open a separate bank account, create a budget, and take stock of all assets. Don’t go it alone—speak to a qualified family lawyer as soon as possible.
All of this is challenging. The experienced and understanding attorneys at SFLG have been helping couples divorce with dignity for over 35 years. We can help you navigate this complex process as peacefully as possible and achieve a positive outcome so you can thrive in your new life.
By Debra Schoenberg