So You’re Getting a Divorce

The second installment of a two-part series on what to know and how to protect yourself in the case of divorce.

Brooke Dilling | @brookefrances   

I was in my late 30’s when I found out my husband was cheating. With two young children at home, I was hell-bent on keeping my family intact. We spent close to a year in counseling, trying to “make it work.” It didn’t work. He moved out and eventually filed for divorce. I was heartbroken. And pissed off. And I wanted him to hurt just as much as me. Unfortunately, the courts in Colorado don’t work that way.

The following is meant to prevent you or someone you love from being blindsided in the process of a divorce.

What You Need to Know

Colorado is a “no fault state.” It doesn’t matter if someone has been unfaithful. In the eyes of the court, no one party is responsible for the failure of a marriage. Barring any mitigating circumstances, the court believes property, debt, and parental time with children should all be “split down the middle.”

This can all be negotiated through mediation, and your best bet is to come to final decisions in mediation, rather than having the court make these decisions for you. The biggest obstacle in court is time. A judge will spend a miniscule amount of time on your case. The more you have control over your decisions, the better your outcome will be. (And the cheaper your divorce will be, too.)

How to Get You Through

The process of getting a divorce is often long and difficult. It’s stressful, emotionally draining, and can be financially devastating. Kelly Rider Goodwin, founding attorney at Rider Goodwin Law, has a few suggestions on ways to survive a divorce.

Get a therapist. Your attorney is not your therapist. Talking to a therapist is much less expensive than talking to your attorney. The courts will not see being in therapy as a negative. In fact, it may be seen in a positive light that you have taken the initiative to keep mentally healthy as you navigate this difficult time in your life.

Talk to and meet with as many attorneys as you think is necessary. This may be the biggest investment you ever make. You are giving this person responsibility over your life, your children (if you have them), your finances. You are hiring them as much as they are choosing to work for you. If an attorney is pushing you to file for divorce immediately, this should be a red flag.

Remember, YOU are choosing the attorney you feel most comfortable with, not your family or other 3rd party influences. When you choose an attorney, it’s best to avoid hiring a mirror – or an extension of yourself. Hire someone who is different than you.  If you are passive and indecisive, you may want to hire someone who can push you to make decisions.  If you are quick to get angry and show emotion, you may want an attorney who slows your roll. Most importantly, you want an attorney who will push you, but who you trust to prepare you and protect you.

Go into all meetings and negotiations with your eyes wide open. Ask your attorney to prepare you for the “worst case scenario.”  If you know the worst-case scenario, you can be prepared for all outcomes. Do your best to remove all emotion from your case. Treat your divorce like a business.

Most counties in Colorado will recommend or require a couple to enter mediation before heading to court. This is especially true if children are involved. It is a waste of your money and time in mediation to NOT meet with your attorney prior to mediation. You want to have a plan ahead of time, rather than wasting time trying to figure it out on the fly.

It is best to go to mediation with an attorney present. A mediator is not there to advocate for you. They are there to ensure that the process is fair.  An attorney will advocate on your behalf and will be able to advise you on what you are agreeing to and the long-term implications. Realize the process of negotiation is difficult for everyone. If no one leaves happy, it’s most likely a good result.

Rider Goodwin also advises that once your divorce is final, determine necessary changes to beneficiaries on all of your policies, make changes to your will and power of attorney, update your health insurance information, and your car insurance. You will also want to meet with your financial planner to update your long and short term financial plans.

Lessons Learned

A few of the lessons I learned in the process of my divorce? I was too quick to choose an attorney. When I realized I didn’t trust my attorney, I stayed instead of moving on. I didn’t ask enough questions and I didn’t feel prepared for the worst-case scenario. There were many times my emotions got the best of me because – in addition to not wanting the divorce -- I was blindsided by the potential outcomes. And rather than discussing my frustrations with a therapist, I vented to my attorney.

Divorce isn’t pleasant, but for many, it is a reality. Be smart. You’ll get through it.