A text popped up on my phone. It was my sister. “He’s single” it said. Since my divorce her matchmaking skills have fallen flat to say the least, so it’s not surprising I ignored the text and carried on about my day. It wasn’t until the headline caught my attention later in the day that I discovered who she was referring to: “Bill and Melinda Gates are ending their marriage after 27 years.”
Three thoughts came to mind: first, I would need to set my sister straight. All seniors are off limits, even Bill Gates. Second, 27 years is actually impressive for the Microsoft mogul and his wife. Finally, having just gone through my own divorce, I wondered what advice I would give a couple with a collective net worth of $150 billion. Will their divorce be different right out the gate (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), or could the following lessons learned from my own divorce still apply?
Here’s What I Learned From Divorce
1. Focus on what is acceptable, not what is fair
Attorney Beth McCormack of Chicago-based family law firm Beermann LLP discourages her clients’ use of the word “fair” preferring they replace it with “acceptable” – and for good reason. Fair tends to be subjective. What is fair to one may be not seem fair to the other, whereas acceptable is slightly more black and white. A smart strategy would be to consider a range of acceptable settlement outcomes and keep your eye on the long game. As the case unfolds, whether you are a high-net-worth couple or not, the reality is you are not going to get exactly what you want and at times this won’t always seem fair.
While the minutia and complexity of your case hopefully pales in comparison to the Gates’, the fact remains that you will face several curveballs along the way and focusing on an acceptable outcome rather than becoming derailed by what is not fair, will save you thousands in attorney’s fees and significant angst. Finally, having a mentality of what is fair tends to enable a victim mindset, whereas acceptable puts you back in the driver’s seat encouraging accountability for a happy and fulfilled life post-divorce.
2. Organize, organize, organize
No matter the size of your bank account, separating your assets can be scary. It can also be a great opportunity to get organized and really understand where your money is and how it can ultimately work for you. It is not uncommon for one spouse to be less involved in the finances, particularly if they have been out of the workforce to raise children.
If this was you, the discovery phase of your divorce will seem daunting, requiring you and your spouse to disclose everything in your name such as accounts, tax statements, credit card debt and pay stubs to name a few. At times it may seem like you are handing over your life on paper, and in many ways you are. However, since this is a requirement, why not use the time wisely to get smart in areas you may have historically overlooked?
If you still seem overwhelmed, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) may be well worth the fee as they have both the legal knowledge and financial acumen to help you get from point A to point B and to set long-term financial goals. Even if you engage a CDFA, a hands-on approach will serve you in the long run as any good analyst will educate you and answer questions along the way. Much like spring cleaning a house, going through the financial discovery process is tedious and can be intimidating, but once behind you, you will feel so empowered and in a much better position to make informed decisions about your money.
3. Avoid big decisions
Unless absolutely necessary, divorce is not a time to make rash decisions or changes to other areas of your life. Whether it is a new love interest, job change, or move to another city, it would behoove you to wait until the dust has settled. These distractions could compromise more pressing decisions during a time when clarity of mind is absolutely crucial. This is particularly important when children, the collateral damage of divorce, are involved. Remind yourself that they did not sign up for this. They need to feel that they are your priority during a transition that affects their lives even more than yours. If not for you, then for your children’s sake, try and maintain as much stability in their lives until they (and you) adjust to the new normal.
4. Turn your divorce into a relaunch
It is going to be very tempting to dwell on regret and rumination about the past. Take it from me, don’t do it to yourself. Yes, hold space to grieve and allow yourself time to cry, but whatever you do, don’t look back.
When you live in the past you are applying the knowledge of today to a time in history. This is fiction, a fairy tale really. You know what can be real? Taking all that you learned, applying it to the here and now, and carving out the best life for yourself going forward. If you need to hire a good therapist or coach to hold you accountable and not exhaust your loved ones, do it.
Remember, if you have children, they are watching. You will need to put that oxygen mask on immediately in order to help them cope and set the example you can one day be proud of. How you handle this transition will set the stage for not only how they handle it, but also for how they approach life’s biggest challenges. Do you want them to be the victim or the creator of their lives? No matter how much blame you assign your soon-to-be-ex, the sooner you accept the part you played, the sooner you can move on to the beautiful life you deserve without looking back.
What I learned from divorce is that happiness is possible on the other side. This may well be the rockiest time of your life. You will be under a microscope for your children, your spouse, the legal profession, and, if you are rich and famous, the whole world. But before you know it, the worst will be over and in its place, a blank slate that belongs to you. No matter how fat your wallet, these tips can be applied to most divorce cases, the Gates’ included. In fact, as the saying goes “more money, more problems” so anyone fortunate enough should take special note, even Bill and Melinda Gates.
This article was originally published here.