There’s no sugar-coating how painful it is to end a marriage or long-term partnership. When I tell clients going through divorce that I understand their stress and anxiety, I’m speaking from experience.
In 2005, with two children under the age of four, my husband and I separated, and in the fall of 2008, our divorce was finalized. Our marriage hadn’t been going well for a while and we both knew it was the right decision, even though at the time it felt like I had somehow failed.
Having come through my divorce, I can confidently say my life is so much better now. It allowed me to carve out the life I really wanted –– on my own terms. It’s also made me a better family law lawyer. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my own divorce experience that made me a stronger and more empathetic legal advocate.
Keep the big picture in mind
My ex-husband and I hired our own lawyers, but ultimately, we came to an agreement ourselves, based on what was best for our children. From the start, we were determined to have a healthy co-parenting relationship. Despite our differences, we have always supported each other in having an important role in our children’s lives. Today, almost 13 years after our divorce, we have two happy, healthy and well-adjusted kids who have a good relationship with both parents.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Nothing feels small when you’re in the middle of a divorce. Navigating all the changes can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to get caught up in the blame game and want to make the other person pay for the hurt you’re feeling. I have seen those feelings manifest in costly fights over “stuff” that serve no real purpose.
I read an interesting article recently where a U.S. attorney talked about his divorce and how he chose to walk away from a fight over a treasured vase from his grandmother, which had no value other than sentimental.
“When my ex-wife agreed to let me have it, I was happy –– at least until the vase, with which I was presented was another vase that had no relation to my grandmother,” wrote Lawrence H. Bloom.
“I could have spent thousands of dollars arguing this through counsel (I was smart enough to have my own divorce lawyer), or I could accept what I was given. Fortunately, from my perspective as a divorce lawyer, I chose the latter. After all, it was only a ‘thing’ and one I could live without.”
Children are resilient
Because our kids were so young when we divorced, they had no real memories of us being together, so their adjustment was relatively easy. Often people underestimate how resilient children are and overestimate the importance of consistency, in my opinion. With some exceptions, such as families where abuse or other risks to the children are present, they should have quality time with each parent.
Many parents worry that shuffling kids back and forth between homes will harm them. But this is the price of having quality time with both parents, and it’s important to keep the big picture in mind.
From my experience –– and that of many others –– I know that divorce can be an opportunity for both parents to strengthen relationships with their children. During our marriage, I had been the primary caregiver to our children, but after our divorce, we shared all of those responsibilities because we were intent on ensuring our children were safe and secure.
Be strategic, not reactionary
When you are going through separation or divorce, it’s not easy to control your emotions, but keeping them in check will give you the best result for the long term and help to keep your legal costs down. I advise clients to treat their divorce like a business negotiation: remove emotion, think logically and stay calm.
It’s important to recognize that while your divorce signals the end of the marriage, it also marks the start of a new chapter for you and your children and an opportunity for positive change, growth and creating the life you want.