Divorce can be a very frustrating experience. Everyone has expectations about the process and has desires about the outcome. The parties to a divorce often feel isolated and feel like they have no control over what’s happening. Well-meaning family and friends often get involved and do what they can to support the husband or wife. Unfortunately, some of their efforts may intensify feelings of frustration that a party may be feeling. A little more understanding of some of the circumstances of what’s happening in a divorce may help avoid or at least minimize frustration for the parties to the divorce.
Everyone should recognize that they have some control over their own feelings, but can’t control the feelings of others. Spouses get upset, friends and family members get upset and even the attorneys, judge and court personnel may get upset in a given case. A party going through a divorce has enough concerns taking care of himself or herself, without adding the responsibility of keeping everyone else happy. Here are some typical sources of frustration and some suggestions for what can be done to minimize the stress from them.
1. Your spouse. One of the biggest sources of complaints during a divorce is often your spouse. Go figure! If your spouse was already one who freely complained during your marriage, that will probably continue throughout the divorce. If (s)he was big into blaming, it will continue and may increase, and guess who the target of the blame will be. Probably not him or her. So, what can you do?
- Tune out your spouse. Don’t listen when (s)he is complaining or blaming. Walk away, hang up the phone and don’t read messages if you reach the point where everything is negative and blaming. Avoid any discussions in person, and maybe in other forms as well, if the talks always seem to lead to arguments, blame, scapegoating — negative attacks on you and others. You may be getting divorced, at least in part, for this very problem, so help yourself by staying out of the situation that drives you crazy.
- Get counseling to learn coping skills or ways to avoid the situations. You don’t have to be crazy to benefit from counseling. In fact, counselors can help you keep your sanity and not get upset by what’s going on. You’re probably dealing with a situation that you have never experienced before and most people don’t just naturally have the ability to deal with the stress. Get some help!
- Talk with your attorney about the frustrations and try to work out solutions to the issues complained of or have your attorney help you avoid the discussions. Sometimes understanding what’s going on in your case can help reduce anxiety. Working out a plan with your attorney, based on your needs and interests, can also give you more comfort.
2. Your attorney. Unfortunately, one of the biggest complaints clients have is a lack of communication with their attorney. Many attorneys stay very busy and sometimes they just are not available when a client wants/needs to talk with them. What can you do about that?
- Have a good understanding with your attorney from the outset about what your communication needs are and what the attorney can do. Your attorney may know that (s)he will be unavailable at certain times because of other obligations. Since your problems, needs and concerns don’t shut off on a schedule, have a “Plan B” worked out with the attorney so you can get help from his/her office. Find out your attorney’s communication style and abilities in advance. Equally important, let your attorney know about your expectations and needs as well. Get to know the attorney’s staff — they can be very helpful and are usually much more available than the attorney.
- Adjust your expectations. Yes, you are paying a lot of money for legal representation, but you are not the only client with needs and your attorney may try to maintain some sort of personal life outside of work. It’s unrealistic to expect an attorney to be at your beck and call 24/7, but you should be able to find out what is realistic for your attorney. You should be able to get in contact with someone from the attorney’s office with a minimal delay. Talking with a staff member is often the best solution.
3. The other attorney. Parties to a divorce often become very critical of the attorney representing their spouse. Sometimes the attorney is rude or inconsiderate. Sometimes the attorney is just doing his/her job. Most of the time, the attorney is acting appropriately for the other side. What can you do about this?
- Adjust your attitude. The other attorney is acting on information provided by your spouse and is trying to help your spouse meet his/her goals and needs. It’s not surprising that you wouldn’t be happy about what the other attorney does or says. You need to expect the other attorney to act contrary to you interests. Don’t take it personally.
- Talk to your attorney about it if you think the other attorney is really out of line. Sometimes an attorney may go to far in advocating for a client, but most likely the attorney is acting properly. It’s hard to accept that if some of the attorney’s comments are critical of you or are in conflict with how you want things to go. Your attorney can help you understand the situation. Knowing to expect the unfavorable comments or strategies may help reduce your frustrations.
4. What others say. In every divorce there is a group of invisible, but vocal, advisers in the background. Sometimes they are out in the open. They try to help out by giving you advice and support. Their support sometimes takes the form of attacking your spouse, your spouse’s family and friends, the attorneys and/or the court system. Some of the “others” may have had previous divorce experience or have some other specialized knowledge or experience that they want to share with you. The problem is that each case is different and the “others” will not know all the details of your case, so their advice may be inappropriate, even if well-intentioned. What should you do?
- Talk to your attorney about what you are hearing. There may be some useful information, but let your attorney help you figure out what helps and what you should ignore. Don’t get worked up about what you hear until you talk with your attorney. The advice you receive is often very wrong.
- Tune out a lot of the chatter. Ultimately, you may have to just not pay attention to these well-meaning advisers. If they’re giving you wrong information, you can appreciate their concern, but not follow their advice. Often such advice gets in the way of following through with the strategy your attorney had worked out.
5. The judge and the legal process. Sometimes it may seem like you are fighting the judge who seems to be on your spouse’s side. Sometimes it seems like the whole legal system is messed up. In almost every case, it moves much slower than at least one party wants, and it sometimes moves much faster than one of the parties wants.
- Recognize that the judge and other court personnel have rules and procedures they must follow. They also have responsibilities for many other parties who are involved in cases in the court system. You need to accept the fact that the judge probably won’t agree with you on a lot of things and won’t see everything from just your perspective. In the best of cases, you want the judge to understand your case and see both your and your spouse’s points of view. You would prefer that the judge ultimately agree with you, but you must be realistic.
- Don’t assume certain outcomes or motives. Talk with your attorney about what to expect. Your attorney should be able to explain how the legal process works so that you can determine whether it is operating within normal bounds.
6. When it seems like everything is going in favor of your spouse. That is a common, but mistaken, feeling. It comes from focusing on all the issues that are decided in favor of your spouse and ignoring or discounting the issues decided in your favor. It often results from ignoring the big picture and focusing on just the negative and the small items. This feeling is often made worse by the invisible chorus in the background who may start complaining that everything is going in your spouse’s favor. When you start to feel this way, what can you do?
- Focus on the big picture. Think about the major issues. If you get awarded the majority of a retirement plan, but your spouse gets a large number of low-value items, don’t start thinking everything is going your spouse’s way. Keep things in perspective.
- Talk to your attorney about your concerns. The attorney can remind you of your “victories” and help you be realistic. Ultimately, it comes down to whether you attain your highest level or most important goals. Don’t let yourself get down just because your spouse is prevailing on some issues.
- Be realistic in what you want. You will be unsuccessful if your requests are way out of line. A judge is unlikely, in most cases, to give most of the assets to one party and the debts to the other, unless there are special factors. A judge will normally establish standard visitation and child support for children, no matter how mad you may be (justified or not) at your spouse. You will surely be disappointed if you are unrealistic. Your attorney can help you develop appropriate requests and goals.
A common response you may have noticed is to discuss these concerns with your attorney. That is the single best thing you can do. If you don’t raise the issue with your attorney, and don’t take action to deal with the problems, you may become overwhelmed by frustration. Help yourself by recognizing the situation and getting help.