The way you conduct yourself during your divorce will lay the groundwork for your life afterwards. That's why you're smart to learn how to have an amicable divorce.
Not divorcing amicably will really cost you.
Here's what an amicable divorce looks like and what you must do to have one.
After years of soul-searching and months of counseling, you’ve made the difficult decision to end your marriage.
But you don’t want your divorce or separation to be a knock-down, drag-out brawl.
One where you and your spouse hate each other when it’s over. Spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a divorce attorney or litigation in family court. And scar your children for life.
Instead, you want to have a peaceful divorce.
But you don’t know how or if it’s even possible.
So before you do anything, let’s first take a closer look at what it means to divorce amicably. And discuss five things you'll need to do to plan an amicable divorce process from the start.
What is an Amicable Divorce?
Most people think amicable divorces, meaning divorcing peacefully, are a myth.
But they are possible - if you know what a good divorce looks like and what you must do to have one.
To start off, let’s test your knowledge by asking, "What is amicable divorce?"
Is it one in which:
A) You and your soon-to-be-ex are cordial to each other in the court hallway?
B) Your divorcing spouse disagrees with the terms your family law attorney set forth, but chooses to sign the divorce papers anyway just to make the divorce process end?
C) You and your spouse do your best to avoid each other and be polite around the kids but are walking on eggshells and know things could go sideways at any moment?
D) None of the above.
If you chose “D) none of the above,” you would be correct.
It is possible to keep your divorce amicable.
The word divorce often conjures up images of angry exes, drawn-out court battles and drained bank accounts.
But you don't have to have a traditional divorce - your divorce doesn't have to be that way.
You can instead approach your divorce process in ways that will allow you and your spouse to work together to end your marriage and resolve your differences productively.
So it's better for you and your children.
There are 5 Steps to a Peaceful Divorce:
Step 1: Make the decision to divorce without blame.
Step 2: Focus on the big picture.
Step 3: Negotiate the terms of your divorce agreement in good faith.
Step 4: Place the needs of your children first, create a good parenting plan and be good co-parents once your divorce case is finalized.
Step 5: Work through the terms of your settlement agreement in an environment of mutual respect and dignity out of court and without involving attorneys.
Doing these things are the keys to divorcing amicably.
How to Divorce Amicably
Rarely does someone plan a disastrous separation and divorce.
But it’s a smart couple who takes the time upfront to learn how to end their marriage and divorce peacefully. And what steps they’ll need to take to keep their divorce process on track.
Did you know the reason most divorces get so out of hand is because the parties don’t know they have choices? It’s true!
A choice in how the spouses make the decision to divorce.
A choice in how the couple negotiates the terms of their settlement.
A choice to put the needs of their children and family above their own.
And a choice on which method the couple uses to get their divorce.
Here's how to have an amicable divorce complete with the choices and decisions both spouses need to make:
Step 1 for how to get an amicable divorce: Make the decision to divorce without blame.
In a divorce, there’s a lot of temptation for a couple to blame each other for the failure of the marriage.
Maybe you were compatible as spouses when you first got married, but over the years your interests changed. And you drifted apart.
Or perhaps you got so wrapped up in building your career or taking care of the kids and running them from place to place you forgot to make time for each other. And now you find yourselves “familiar strangers.”
Regardless of the factors that led to the failure of your marriage, if you find yourself at the crossroads of divorce, the time for blame has passed. Your only choice now is to move forward.
Choose to make the decision to divorce without placing blame on each other and you stand an excellent chance of divorcing amicably.
Choose to focus on the past and blame each other for what went wrong during the marriage and your chances of having an amicable divorce process go out the window.
Step 2 for how to have an amicable divorce: Focus on the big picture.
The next tip is to focus on the big picture.
You'd be amazed at the seemingly insignificant issues that can derail a divorce for many couples.
If you’re looking to drag things out for months or years and make things confrontational and adversarial, then, by all means, fight over every little thing. But if you want to know how to get through a divorce peacefully, you're going to have to learn to pick your battles.
Before you get wrapped up discussing every divorce detail with your spouse, take the time to figure out what's most important to you - what your wants, needs and non-negotiables are.
That way, you won't get caught up in the muck and will have the clarity to tackle negotiations in a more peaceful, focused manner.
This is especially critical if you and your spouse have children together. The decisions you'll need to make during your divorce will affect you and your kids for years to come. I can tell you as a child of divorce myself, that no truer words were spoken. Decisions my parents made have affected me even well into adulthood!
Nobody wins in divorce, but if you focus on what's most important, like your kids and your future, instead of fighting over semantics or trying to be right, you'll improve your chances of divorcing peacefully and getting an agreement you feel comfortable with.
Step 3 for how to settle a divorce amicably: Negotiate the terms of your divorce in good faith.
The quickest way to turn your divorce into a stressful and financially ruinous disaster is to hide assets or under-report your income.
On the other hand, if you want to end your marriage peacefully and have a friendly divorce, you'll need to engage in what's known as a "good faith negotiation."
A good faith negotiation is one in which both parties are willing to reveal all relevant financial information and ensure, to the best of their abilities, that the information is accurate, complete and truthful. And in turn avoid the unpleasantness associated with things like:
"the formal discovery and disclosure of information, including, but not necessarily limited to, depositions, requests to produce documents, an examination of the books and records of the other party, and the procurement of independent valuations of the assets possessed and/or controlled by the other, etc."
I don't know what that means either...
In a good faith negotiation, both parties agree to put all of their "cards on the table" and openly disclose all assets, debts, income, tax returns, bank accounts, etc. in order to paint a complete picture of what issues need to be discussed and resolved.
In many marriages, it's common for one party (spouse) to be more familiar with the household finances than the other, so this allows each party to have access to information they might not otherwise have had.
You and your spouse don't have to be the best of friends and you don't have to agree on how you'll resolve your marital property division, alimony / spousal support, child custody, child support or anything else for that matter. But you do have to trust each other in order to divorce peacefully.
And a good faith negotiation builds trust and will keep your divorce proceedings transparent so you can have an amicable divorce and a fair agreement.
Step 4: To have an amicable divorce with children, place the needs of your children first and be good co-parents.
In order to divorce amicably, you must also place the needs of your family first and be good co-parents.
Choosing divorce mediation will enable you to put the needs of your children first and have an amicable divorce process.
Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process that focuses on improving relationships instead of destroying them.
When as a couple, you and your spouse choose to work with a divorce mediator for your uncontested divorce, you’re saying:
"We’re putting our children’s needs first. We want to decide together what’s best for them as parents. Not against each other as litigants."
"We want to make sure each of us is actively involved in their lives and has as much parenting time with them as possible."
"We want to work together to resolve child support and make sure they don’t become the economic victims of our divorce."
"Because that’s what’s best for our kids and family."
It may not be next week, next month, or even next year, but one day your kids will say, "Thank you for putting us first!"
Step 5 of how to amicably divorce: Work through the terms of your divorce settlement in an environment of mutual respect and dignity - out of court.
The opposite of amicable divorce happens when a couple involves lawyers.
Involving lawyers in your divorce is like throwing gasoline on a fire. Not a great idea unless you want to burn everything to the ground.
Divorce lawyers can make your divorce proceedings confrontational, antagonistic and downright hostile.
One minute, you and your spouse are getting along reasonably well and keeping things civil for the sake of your kids. Then, each of you hires a divorce lawyer and the next minute, you're mortal enemies vowing to fight each other to the bitter end.
Dragging you, your spouse and your kids through the mud until your reputations are destroyed.
And your bank accounts are empty.
The best way for an amicable separation or an amicable divorce is to choose to mediate without involving lawyers because you can resolve your issues and end your marriage in an environment of mutual respect and dignity.
By its very nature, divorce can get heated.
But instead of hiring family law attorneys and turning your divorce dispute into an all-out war in court, work with one highly skilled divorce mediator who will help you develop peaceful divorce solutions that benefit both spouses.
And your children.
Unlike contentious divorce litigation or even a collaborative divorce process, there is no confrontational "us versus them" mentality.
If you want to know how to have a peaceful divorce, it’s by using mediation.
Divorce mediation is focused on respectful dialog and mutually-agreeable problem-solving so you can both move forward peacefully.
Instead of prolonging the fighting.
Divorce is unpleasant enough. Do you really want it to drag on for years?
Still not convinced that divorcing amicably is in your best interest?
Maybe these hidden dangers will change your mind.
Hidden Danger #1: Financial Ruin
Maybe you think you're going to hire a family law attorney to give legal advice and fight for you. To get you the alimony or spousal support you think you're entitled to. And not let your soon-to-be ex take advantage of you.
The heck with having a civil divorce!
But guess what?
A divorce attorney costs money. Lots and lots of money.
Before you know it, all that money you didn't want your ex to get will be gone. Blown on legal fees totaling in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Before you know it, you'll be liquidating your 401(k), taking out a second mortgage on your house and raiding your children's college fund. All to pay your attorney.
There will be no money left over to fight about and long after your divorce decree, you'll be left in financial hole you'll never be able to get out of.
The more peaceful a divorce, the less money you'll spend.
Hidden Danger #2: Emotional Devastation
There's no question the financial damage an attorney-driven divorce will do is devastating and can ruin you for life.
But that damage pales in comparison to the emotional devastation it will inflict upon both of you.
If you go down the path of a litigated divorce, you and your spouse can look forward to spending years of your life fighting over every last thing. Re-hashing the past and even discussing issues you both thought weren't relevant in the first place.
It's a nightmare you'll have a hard time waking up from.
Now You Know How to Divorce Amicably: By Using Divorce Mediation!
There’s no question that staying friendly during one of the most stressful and draining times of your life will be difficult.
But it’s not impossible.
The way you conduct yourself during your divorce will lay the groundwork for your life afterwards. That's why you're smart to want to end your marriage peacefully and reach an amicable resolution.
And now you know exactly what you can do to make that possible.
You can make divorce amicable by using mediation!
Among peaceful divorce solutions, mediation is at the top because it’s the only method that enables a divorcing couple like you to:
Negotiate the terms of your no-fault divorce or separation in good faith;
Focus on the big picture;
Put the needs of your children first and create a good foundation for co-parenting;
Work through your divorce issues in an environment of mutual respect and dignity without involving attorneys;
And you can have a peaceful divorce which is exactly what you want and deserve!
Just Starting to Plan for an Amicable Divorce?
The choices you make before you start your divorce will likely set the tone for how amicable it will be for you and your children.
But you can only make smart choices if you take the time to get educated and prepare for divorce first.
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and specializes in helping couples resolve the issues required for divorce -peacefully, fairly and cost-effectively. When he’s not mediating, you can find him exercising, cooking, and watching Cubs baseball.