Few people decide to divorce without spending months — sometimes even years — soul searching and deliberating that decision.
Below, experts share seven things you absolutely must consider before calling it quits.
1. Have we tried marriage counseling?
You owe it yourself and your spouse to pursue every last conceivable option before pulling the plug on your marriage — and that includes giving marriage counseling a chance, said Terry Gaspard, a therapist and author specializing in divorce.
“A motivated couple can begin to explore their problems from a new perspective and learn new ways to recognize and resolve conflicts as a result of the tools provided in therapy,” she said. “It’s common for couples to reach an impasse and lose the ability to be vulnerable and trusting of one another. Marriage counseling can provide neutral territory to help couples work through tough issues.”
You may still end up divorced — sometimes, Gaspard said, therapy helps “clarify the reasons why you need to separate or end the marriage” — but at least you know you gave it your all before calling it quits.
2. What’s going to happen with the kids?
It’s inevitable that the kids will be affected by your divorce. Though you don’t have to map it all out now, giving some thought to your post-divorce parenting plan — what kind of custody agreement you hope to have, if the kids will continue going to the same school — will make the transition that much easier for them, said Karen Covy, a Chicago divorce lawyer and mediator.
“You want to brainstorm what you need to do to make this transition as painless as possible for them — and if there is any way that you and your spouse could sit down and discuss this before you have decided to divorce, that would be the best,” she said. “Remember, your kids are going to have a thousand questions. They are going to be scared. They are going to be emotional. So are you. The more you can work this out in advance, the better off you will be.”
3. Do I have realistic expectations for my spouse?
Ask yourself if you’ve put an undue burden on your spouse to make you happy, said Gaspard. If you’re relying solely on your marriage as a source of fulfillment in your life, you’re setting yourself up for failure, she explained.
“Many people have unrealistic expectations of marriage and buy into the fantasy that there is a perfect person or soul mate who can make them happy and give them unconditional love,” she explained. “Adopting a more realistic expectation of marriage and understanding that a good partnership requires effort from both partners can help couples get through the inevitable ups and downs of married life.
4. Do I have access to emotional support?
Divorce is one of the most stressful events you’ll ever experience. Before you move forward, make sure you have a strong, tight-knit support system in place to help you get through the early weeks and months post-split, said Debra Campbell-Tunks, a psychologist based in Melbourne, Australia.
“It’s essential to know who’ll be around you on a daily basis that you trust enough to open up to or ask for help,” she said. “Ask yourself if you’d benefit from getting a therapist to help you journey through the challenges and decisions to come. Find someone who will be there specifically to listen to you.”
5. What is my financial plan?
When you meet with a lawyer, be sure to ask them what’s plausible in terms of distribution of your marital assets, child support and alimony. Then schedule a separate appointment with a financial advisor, said Ronya Corey, a wealth management advisor.
“Have your financial advisor run or update your retirement analysis based on the numbers to make sure you have an understanding of how such an event will affect you financially,” she told HuffPost. “Use this rough draft until your divorce’s final decree to ascertain if these are numbers you are comfortable with. Throughout the entire divorce process, as negotiations take many turns, you should frequently re-run that analysis with your financial advisor before agreeing to final terms.”
6. Am I prepared to share custody?
Ask any divorced parent: One of the most painful parts of separating when you have kids is packing their stuff up and watching them go to your ex’s house. It doesn’t matter how amicable your divorce is — your ex may be the type who lets you stop by and kiss the kids goodnight — it still hurts to see them leave, said Campbell-Tunks.
“You have to ask yourself whether you are ready to calmly manage your own feelings, while helping your children adjust to separations, with the minimum of drama and distress,” she said. “If the idea of being apart from the children feels unbearable right now and is likely to be a consequence of divorce, then you may need more time to plan how you will negotiate that inevitable challenge on an emotional level.”
This is a particularly important question to ask if you’re currently a stay-at-home parent and divorce “threatens to turn that role on its head,” Campbell-Tunks said.
7. Am I satisfied with my decision?
This question is key. You’ll feel more liberated than you have in a long time once you’ve figured out if being on your own again — emotionally, financially and physically — is your best option, said Covy.
“Getting divorced is a life-changing decision. If you are not sure whether it is the right decision for you, then you need to do whatever it takes for you to get sure before you do anything else,” she said. “Go to therapy. Go to couples counseling. Go on vacation. Do whatever you have to do to get clear about whether you really and truly want to do this before you pull the trigger.”
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