If you're going through the divorce process, read this FIRST.
Getting a divorce is a stressful ordeal, whether you're divorcing a total nightmare or a decent person. Everyone, and I mean everyone, will give you legal advice, from your Aunt Edna to the random dude on the subway.
Most people mean well: your loved ones want to see you happy and taken care of, and strangers most likely don't want to see you make the same mistakes they made. Still, the only person that can really give you honest legal advice is a lawyer or mediator. But you can learn from others who have divorced and learned hard or small lessons in the process.
As someone finalizing a divorce, there are a few things I would have done differently if I could go through the divorce process again. Perhaps my words may end up helping you if you're taking the journey toward severing your marriage.
1. I would have moved faster.
I'm not advocating for rushing through a divorce, but I am advocating for not dragging your feet. Being afraid and nervous about the future is completely normal, but when you drag the process out it makes it difficult to complete.
For my ex and I, we took so long to finish the deal that it meant we had to make so many changes in our divorce settlement and it dragged on our stress, even though we were completely and utterly done with each other. We were focusing on other factors like work, getting new lives and homes set up, and other logistics that were more important in the moment. But it's better to focus on the task at hand and seal the deal.
2. I would have paid for legal help rather than ask family.
We were fortunate to have family and associates to give us advice in the legal process, considering we were both not financially able to seek legal help; however, this was also a hindrance because it's difficult for family to treat you the same as they might their clients and vice versa.
I feel grateful for the advice and help we were given, but it also made things stressful with people who matter to me, and for that I wish we had gone outside our immediate circle. Thankfully, when it came to family, it turned out alright, but we originally had a friend help us and there was so much pressure on me from my ex — who was doubtful of this "friend's service" — that it became a trickle down effect.
Even if you're financially strapped, try to consult with those outside of your social circle. If you're broke, seek out a mediator straight from the courts, which is free. It costs to file for divorce, but not as much as a lawyer.
If you two are on reasonable terms, hiring a mediator and getting things straightened out is far cheaper than dealing with lawyers. I was fortunate that a family member mediates and could work with us, but again, going outside the family or friend network is easier for everyone.
3. I wouldn't have worried about being nice all the time.
This doesn't mean go ahead and be a douche, but don't be so nice that you end up hurting yourself financially. Be very honest in mediation, or if you must, with lawyers, about what you need and feel is fair to move ahead with your life.
Behave like an adult and prove your point. This doesn't mean being greedy, but being willing to fight for what you feel is best for yourself rather than caving in fear. If there's something you feel is fair in the divorce itself, ask a mediator if your request is reasonable and try to counteroffer something attractive for your ex so the two of you can compromise. Being too nice in the end though will leave you dry.
4. I would have dropped fussing over the little things.
Not everything — especially if you divorce with kids — will go as you would like it to. Try to choose the most important battles to pick, both as you make a property settlement agreement and as you coparent together; drop the less important ones. Fighting all the time is draining and not a good way to manage your resources mentally when going through a divorce.
5. I would have written everything on paper.
All important conversations with an ex, whether an amicable ex or not, should be backed up on paper via email or text. Don't take anything someone says verbally to heart unless it's in writing. Verbal comments can't be taken to court or to mediation.
6. I would have had both my ex and myself set more specific parameters from the start.
A wise family member and legal consultant explained to my ex and I that our agreement was too broad and could be misinterpreted or easily abandoned, and that we needed to have more specific language. He was right.
It's OK to be casual and easy-going with your ex and work together to decide custody and other situations. But you need an agreement with parameters that are clearly defined in case things turn ugly or stressful. It's for your protection and your ex's.
7. I would have worried less about what my ex was doing.
You cannot control everything or anything an ex does. You can only control how you respond to it, or not. When getting a divorce, consider it this way: I'm now in total charge of my life. Don't expect anything from your former partner. Even if you're the nicest person, don't expect you will get that in return.
Just worry about you and what you need to take care of, and let your former partner worry about what he or she is doing. Obviously, if you have kids and your former partner isn't being good to them, you need to take action. But I'm simply saying don't worry or mind what your partner does that you cannot control. Focus on yourself.
8. I would have said less about the divorce while at work.
Coworkers will ask questions. You may be close with certain coworkers, but just give out as little information as possible.
9. I would have told myself to not be so damn scared.
At some point, my job wasn't providing enough after the divorce left me without a home. I had to juggle many jobs to stay afloat. This drained me. I was afraid to make a leap or look around.
Don't be impulsive or foolish, but don't be afraid to make a change either in job, outlook or situation. If you know you're in need of more pay, a change of scenery or to remove yourself from toxic people in your life, do so. As you will soon learn, you can survive divorce.