Whenever I’m going through a particularly rough patch, I remember an exercise that I was taught way back in high school. It’s stuck with me this long because it’s so effective.
Whatever you’re dealing with – whether it’s problems at work or worries about money – it is a great way to ground you and stop your negative feelings spiraling out of control.
The exercise goes like this:
Close your eyes and picture yourself exactly one month from now. Picture the date on the calendar, maybe the weather has changed a little, maybe some important upcoming events have been and gone.
Remind yourself that the next thirty days are going to happen and there’s nothing you can do to stop that.
The passing of time is inevitable.
So think about how you will spend the next thirty days. Do you want to spend them feeling exactly how you do now? In one month’s time you’ll be stuck in exactly the same spot?
Or do you want to feel like today was a long time ago? To be able to say ‘look how far I’ve come’.
What will it take to go with the second option?
This is a great exercise for those going through a divorce because there really is so much that can be done in 30 days.
When it becomes clear that your marriage is over for good, it is normal to feel a whole range of negative emotions – worry, stress, anger, depression.
But it’s empowering to remember that these feelings don’t have to last forever.
In this article, I provide a clear path forward so that in a month’s time, you can be so much further than you are today.
How to tell your children you’re getting a divorce
One of the hardest tasks of the divorce is the one that has to come first.
If you have kids, you won’t be able to continue to pretend that everything is OK forever. Plus, children are actually very capable of picking up on cues and will probably already be aware that something is going on. They’ll likely even be expecting the conversation.
There are a number of ways to handle ‘the talk’.
If you feel able, you can sit down with your ex and break the news together.
This will let the kids know that although some changes will be coming, it doesn’t have to be too radical.
It goes without saying though that children should not be exposed to any conflict, even arguments which might seem petty to adults. If you won’t be able to sit down together without getting into an argument then do not even attempt to.
The following key points are for you to keep in mind while you’re having the conversation and should be repeated to the kids again and again:
- The kids are loved and it’s not their fault
- They will still get to spend time with both parents and extended family, even though the way that happens will be different
- They can ask any questions they want of either parent and you’ll give them honest answers
- If they don’t want to talk to you, you are happy to find other resources or people to help them to share their feelings
- You’re both doing your best to regain stability and maintain routine as much as is possible. However, things are very new now
There is no need to sugar coat things – children respect honesty and will realize that things aren’t going to be exactly the same as before.
Equally, letting them know that there are numerous ways that they can still spend time with the whole family is important.
Where You Are Going to Live During the Divorce?
Something I nearly always get asked at every initial consultation – should I leave the family home or am I allowed to kick my ex out?
The first thing to ensure is that you are safe, and your children are safe. In the grand scheme of things, your physical and mental health must always come first. Whatever effect that has on the finances and custody can be sorted out later.
If leaving the home is not an option, and you need your ex to leave because they are causing you harm, you can apply to the court for an Order of Protection.
This is a court order which will explicitly state that your ex is to leave the property and not return. It is illegal not to follow these court orders – which means when they are breached you can call the police and they have to act, rather than saying it is a domestic or civil issue which they can’t get involved in.
Orders of Protection can also be used in Illinois law to protect you from harassment, much like an injunction. That means even if your ex leaves the property voluntarily, you can go to court and ask that they stay away from you and not contact you.
Applications for an order of protection are extremely important and expert legal advice should be taken.
What about if there are no issues of harassment or violence but you just want to start living separately?
The number one consideration is how you moving out will affect your custody case. Generally speaking during a divorce judges will order that the children’s lives are as unaffected as possible – meaning that most of the time the judge will order that they stay in the marital residence. Judges are so keen on maintaining the status quo that if you attempt to move out with the children it’s very possible that your spouse may obtain an order of protection against you for taking them out of the marital residence without your spouse’s permission.
But leaving the house without the children can have grave consequences in regard to custody. You are creating a new normal for the children – a normal that does not include you in their lives on a daily basis. By the time you get in front of a judge you might be the de facto every other weekend parent.
Moving from the marital home before your divorce is finalized must be done cautiously and with a solid understanding of the legal implications.
The second major consideration is financial. You need to consider, while the marital home is maintained, is it possible to run two separate households?
There are going to be a lot of expenses coming up – attorney costs for one, maybe other reports such as from an accountant or tax advisor, and your money might be better spent on making sure you get the absolute best deal in the financial settlement, rather than on rent and utility bills.
It can also sometimes be harmful to your argument if you’ve already moved out. For example, you might want to say as part of the financial court case that the only places available to rent are X amount per month, or that you need X amount from the sale in order to purchase somewhere to live.
If you’re already living elsewhere, you’ve kind of already answered those questions and it becomes harder to ask for something different once your living needs have clearly been met.
How to Choose a Divorce Attorney
You are going to be spending a lot of time with your attorney and pretty much trusting them with your future. You need to have total confidence in their abilities.
A lot of law firms will offer initial consultations – to see whether you’d be a good fit before signing up to a retainer. At the Law Offices of Robert B Buchanan we certainly do for just that reason.
Firstly, you need to make sure there is some sort of rapport. You’re going to be trusting your attorney with some vital information and you need to make sure you can rely on them.
It’s worth asking how much experience they have and specifically in cases with your circumstances.
You don’t have to actually instruct an attorney to start work for you straight away.
But it’s useful to get the retainer set up as soon as possible.
For example, if things are relatively friendly between you and your ex, you might want to try and negotiate between yourselves to get the ball rolling.
If something urgent ever happens, or you reach an agreement and want it drawn up quickly, you know that your attorney will be able to help without delay.
Child Custody while The Divorce Is Ongoing
Even if you’re still all living under one roof for the first few weeks, it might be a good idea to start spending time individually with the kids so that they can get used to the new routine.
You could divide the days that each parent helps with homework. You could also start attending extra-curricular activities separately and deciding who’s going to be responsible for what.
That way, you avoid coming up with one routine now and then having to change it all over again when the living arrangements change permanently.
If you have decided to live apart already, it’s worth investing some time from the outset really thinking about what would work best for the children.
If that means investing in mediation or attorney correspondence up front, before starting divorce proceedings, in my opinion it is worth it.
Understanding the Grounds For Divorce
You’re half way through the month and things are starting to settle down.
It’s time to start thinking about that divorce petition. Because once you’ve both come to terms with the fact that things are final, there really is no benefit in putting off the inevitable.
In order to feel confident when applying, you need to understand the grounds for divorce.
In Illinois, there are no longer any ‘fault’ based grounds.
This means that you don’t have to spend any time stressing that either one of you has to come up with a list blaming the other. How much time does that save?
The only ground for divorce filed in Illinois is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably because of irreconcilable differences.
Let’s break that down a little.
Irretrievably broken down means that sadly there is no chance that the marriage can be saved. It means that at least one party has completely made up their mind.
If attempts to get back together have been attempted, they weren’t successful and it would not be beneficial to the family to keep trying1.
And irreconcilable differences can mean as little as that you’ve just drifted apart. That you have different ideas about your future and don’t see that being together.
It can also of course mean much bigger and significant things, too.
But the positive thing in Illinois divorce law at least is that you don’t have to trudge through the reasons, with your ex or strangers, in the court.
Now, to go ahead and use this ground, you have to show the court that the relationship is definitely not working. The court asks that the couple have been living separately for six months before they can file for divorce on this ground2.
But living separately doesn’t actually mean living in different houses.
It means that you’ve been living basically as roommates – perhaps you’ve been cooking and eating separately, doing your own laundry, socializing separately or no longer sharing a bed.
Do I Need to File the Divorce Quickly So I Can Be the Petitioner?
Most of the time, it really makes no difference to the overall outcome of the divorce which person is the Petitioner and which is the respondent.
In fact, in court cases dealing with child arrangements and financial settlements, Judges are explicitly told in the legislation to ignore whose fault the breakdown of the relationship was, unless it is explicitly relevant. Like if a gambling addiction meant that assets were lost or if physical abuse meant someone was unsafe to be around children, for example.
But if there were affairs, or general bad behavior on the behalf of the ‘respondent’, that won’t make a difference to the outcome of the case.
The titles ‘petitioner’ and ‘respondent’ are really just used formally by the court and you don’t need to worry which one you are.
In most cases, there is therefore not really the need to rush off to court to get your papers in first and this is certainly not something you need to worry about in the first few weeks.
The caveat here is filing first might have strategic or jurisdictional consequences. You can gain negotiating leverage if you first and your attorney pushes your case forward aggressively. The other side might be forced into concessions because they find themselves behind the eight ball.
You might also file first because you need support ASAP, or the other side is doing something improper with finances and you want to request that they stop.
Or maybe there’s an emergency custody situation that needs to be addressed immediately by the court.
The Fourth Week – the End of the Beginning
Preparing Financial Disclosure For a Divorce
Now that you’re a month into this journey, you’ve hopefully got your head around the immediate admin jobs that need sorting.
Next, you can start to think about getting started on the most laborious and time consuming process – sorting out the finances. This isn’t something that is going to get sorted overnight so the earlier you start, the better.
Before any serious discussions can take place, you each need to understand the true value of the assets that you’re dealing with.
Having hypothetical discussions without any real figures is just impossible.
The best place to start is by completing the court-mandated Financial Affidavit. The Financial Affidavit is will provide you and your spouse and snapshot of your current financial situation and is a great place to start negotiation.
Beyond the Financial Affidavit are basic documents. We generally recommend that you collect the following:
- Your paychecks for the last year and your gross income
- If self-employed, your business receipts and expenses
- Last two years of tax returns
- Information about other sources of income – interest on accounts, dividends, bonuses for example
- Utility bills and evidence of other living expenses
- Health insurance receipts
- Checking and saving account statements
- Credit card statements
- Valuation of the family home, if owned, by a realtor (ideally three and take the average)
- Valuations of any other valuables – including cars
Now, don’t panic, you don’t have to gather a huge folder of organized documents in one week. It’s OK to do this slowly, and it’s probably going to take up most of month two.
If you hire a law firm, the paralegal and attorney can help you determine which documents are necessary at the beginning of the case. In some cases, you can get away with just a couple in the above list. In other cases, the collection and disclosure of financial information must be much more thorough.
What usually happens is you will gather your evidence and your ex will gather theirs. You’ll agree on a date – perhaps for three or four weeks time – where you will swap information and once that’s done you can ask further questions from there.
You can agree on a future meeting date in week 4 so that you both know what you have to aim for.
The first month of separation can be a whirlwind but with the proper care and diligent action, it’s possible to complete all of the heavy lifting in the divorce process. In fact, if the parties are organized and motivated, the divorce can go from start to finish in three to six weeks.
With the help of an expert divorce attorney, you can understand every single step of the divorce. As with everything in life, when the road ahead is broken down into smaller sections, they become easier to manage.