This is a very difficult time for all concerned, whether you are the one who initiated the divorce, or the one who was told the marriage was over. Here are things you can do to make things a little easier.
Don’t get the same lawyer. You need someone who is on your side and who does not have divided loyalties and interests. It won’t cost more to get your own, and even if it does, it will be money well-spent.
Don’t assume your partner will be fair. Many people who have done divorce the do-it-yourself way have come horribly short. Joint assets have a horrible way of causing a tug-of-war a short while down the line, when one of you needs ready cash or wants to get remarried. Remember that your ideas on what is fair could be very different from each other's.
Do get your own bank account. Once you have done this, close all joint bank accounts and get the attorneys to split the assets contained in these. Many a divorcee has been seriously short-changed while their ex is cavorting in the Seychelles with the new love of his/her life on the joint funds formerly contained in the joint account.
Don’t just settle to get it over with. Many women, especially, find themselves battling financially after a divorce. Often, the whole process becomes so tedious, that people just want to get on with their lives and get the divorce over with, so they settle for a lot less than they should. Remember there are no comebacks later. Settle in haste, repent at leisure.
Do be careful whom you confide in. These people can easily be called upon to testify against you, especially if there is a custody battle. Speak to people, like therapists, who are bound by oaths of non-disclosure.
Don’t leave the house if you can help it. The one who leaves is always at a disadvantage, when it comes to laying claim to the property, or if there is a custody battle. Many a person who has left the joint home return to find another man or woman firmly ensconced.
Do be honest about your assets. If you lie about money or hidden assets, it could swing the judge’s sympathy to your partner. You could end up losing a lot more than if you were honest in the first place.
Do look after your health. This is a very stressful time and emotionally and physically you could be exhausted. One often reads about people who are going through a divorce, who then also become seriously ill. This is no accident. The body’s defences are low at this time and lots of things can go wrong. Sleep regularly, get some exercise and eat properly. This could combat illnesses during this difficult time.
Do remember the children. This is a time of great upheaval for them and you need to stress constantly that this is not their fault. Keep in touch with where they are and go for family therapy as this could prevent many problems later on.
Do try and avoid a sole custody battle. These are costly and damaging and can go on for years. Children can get very damaged in the process, as they do get caught in the acrimony that flies between their parents. They are also financially in a far worse position, as many of the assets formerly belonging to their parents, are now paid over to attorneys. If your former spouse is an alcoholic, a drug addict, or has a lengthy criminal record, these are things the court will take into consideration when deciding custody.
Don’t be swamped by bitterness. This will only stop you from continuing your life in a meaningful way. Dwelling on the past and your former spouse’s wrongdoings may be understandable for a short while, but certainly not years after the event.
Don’t force friends to choose sides. It is inevitable that most people will choose sides, but let this happen as part of a natural process and not because you are forcing the issue. People will go with whoever they knew previously, or whoever they perceive to be the innocent party, or with whoever took the most trouble over them in the years preceding the divorce.
Do minimise contact. It is an upsetting situation for both of you and constant contact only serves to open old wounds. Communicate via e-mail or SMS-messages – they get the message across without being too personal. Especially if there is a third person involved, constant clues about their presence and whereabouts would only serve to upset you further.
Do get a life. Don’t sit at home and mope – not for more than a few weeks anyway. Get involved in a variety of activities and be active socially. You need other people, not only for friendship and support, but also to distract you.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated January 2011)