If you are in the process of getting a divorce, you aren’t alone. In fact, while the rate of divorce has dropped, 39% of marriages still end in a divorce based on data from 2019.[i] The chances of divorce have doubled since 1990 for those over 50, in what is often called “gray divorce”.[ii] No matter your age, divorce is hard and considered one of the 7 most stressful life changes a person experiences.[iii] But that doesn’t mean that it has to be some knockdown, drag-out battle. It is possible, believe it or not, to have an amicable divorce.
You may think an amicable divorce is a fictional thing, sort of like staying friends with exes or Santa Claus. However, the truth is that two people can divorce amicably and civilly if they are willing to put in a little work and genuinely commit to ending the relationship on good terms. In this article, we will go over some steps on how to do that.
Step One: Focus on the Big Picture, Leave History in the Past
A lot of the conflict in the divorce process comes from blame, old anger, and wanting justice for perceived wrongs. If you go into anything with that attitude, however, nothing is going to be civil. This may be the hardest step for some, but you need to find a way to come to the table without the blame. This is about separating a life together and starting a new life apart. The goal is to avoid creating a forum for listing past wrongs so you can find a way to move on. You aren’t ready to have an amicable divorce if you want to bring up old hurts and hash out what got you to the lawyer’s office. To do this, you will have to leave the past behind you to focus on the present and on to the future. Essentially, you need to have a plan for the next chapter: what you want to do, where you want to do it, how you plan to get there, all of it. If you come in looking ahead and not behind, you will be more able to negotiate.
Step Two: Negotiate Honestly and in Good Faith
If you want to part ways on good terms, the second step is to be honest and fair. Under-reporting assets, hiding things, or trying to get more than your fair share are all be bad faith gestures. You are showing that you are serious about having a “good” divorce by putting all your cards on the table and being honest. You don’t have to agree on how anything will be divided, that is why you have the help of lawyers and/or mediators, but all the information must be accurate and above-board for them to help you through the process. Hiding things will just drag out a divorce, costing more in lawyer fees, and curdling any good-faith you may have had.
Step Three: The Kids Have to Come First
It behooves any couple divorcing with children to pursue an amicable divorce. Why? Because you will be dealing with your ex-spouse in some capacity forever. Weekend handoffs, school graduations, sitting at the main tables of your children’s weddings, and their baby showers. Unlike a childless divorce, where once the paperwork is signed you can choose to never talk to your ex again, a divorced couple with children are still co-parents. As such, you will be navigating each other for quite some time. Having a good, or at least civil relationship will go a long way for everyone. It may be hard, but putting the children’s needs first above yours will make a big difference in the quality of your divorce process. You are still a family, even if the parents live separately or chose to remarry other people. Being honest with yourself and your ex-partner about what is best for your children, what you need, what they need, etc. makes all the difference. Pursue a mediator before an aggressive divorce lawyer to ensure that you are working together as co-parents and not opposite each other as litigants. You may want to write up a parenting plan with your ex-spouse, addressed to your children, to help them understand what to expect. You will also want to get everything in writing because how you proceed is a contract, and life changes and future situations may force you back to renegotiate. Plan and discuss consequences if one party does not honor the contracts. The more you can hatch out, openly and honestly, the better chance everyone has of an amicable uncoupling.
Step Four: Pursue Mediation First
Before everyone lawyers up, an amicably divorcing couple should first try to work with a mediator. The first reason is cost, as a mediator will cost an average of $6,000-$7,000 versus using divorce lawyers. The average cost of a litigated divorce is $25,000.[iv] On top of that, where a divorce lawyer is hired to work for you and your interests, a mediator is a neutral third party whose job is to find an agreeable compromise. Mediation isn’t for everyone; it can only work for couples who are able to have discussions, be flexible, and are genuinely able to come to an agreement that satisfies both parties.
A nasty divorce hurts everyone involved, it can be financially devastating, emotionally draining, and it can be traumatic for the children.[v] Trying to find common ground, being open and fair, and taking advantage of support systems through the process will make all the difference. You don’t have to like your ex, but you do have to deal with them to divorce, so finding strategies like the ones listed in this article to divorce well can make a world of difference.