1. Find the Right Lawyer for Your Unique Situation.
As a lawyer myself, I know this is vital for both you and the lawyer. If you’re facing divorce, you need to find someone who is a good fit personally, professionally, and financially. For example, if you want to achieve a cooperative resolution without a court battle, hiring a lawyer who is a fighter and ready to dig in their heels will suit neither your personality nor your goals. You should have your initial consultation with your prospective lawyer face to face. Your whole case may be centered around your and your ex-partner’s lawyers, so be sure to choose wisely. The best-case scenario is for both of you to hire settlement-minded lawyers who will support you and your family through this rough time rather than making things worse by encouraging inflexible, black-or-white thinking. The system is very adversarial and you can get sucked into becoming uncooperative very easily. If your lawyer can help to keep you focused on the end result and what is most important, then you can minimize the fight that may want to rise to the surface. If you and your ex can agree on the broad brushstrokes of your settlement before meeting with lawyers, this will also help to reduce the confrontation as your lawyers help to work out the details. You and your lawyer should think negotiation and settlement first, but be prepared in case you have to fight later. Your pocketbook will thank you and your kid’s college education fund won’t go to your lawyers.
2. Don’t Disparage the Children’s Other Parent.
If you have children, this is one of the most important things you can do to help them recover from your divorce. It may be difficult, but the higher ground will always serve you best. When emotions are running high, it can be easy to forget this tip – but remember the other parent is part of your child(ren), and saying bad things about your ex will leave your child thinking there is something bad about them. (“If Daddy is a no-good, lying cheat, maybe I am, too.”) If you as the parent have or want to say bad things about that person you need to express those thoughts and feelings outside the presence of the child(ren). It would also be my observation as an equine gestalt coach that you still have unfinished business to heal around that person as well. If you can remember that the other person is a traumatized child inside that adult body and not a 20, 35 or 45-year-old adult it will help when thinking about that other person. Don’t forget you will be in each other’s lives forever as a result of having children.
3. Have Age-Appropriate Conversations with your Children.
Do not have adult conversations with them – especially about things they are not able to change or control. Knowing all the sordid details about Mom’s affair or Dad’s gambling problem will only hurt them in the long run. Don’t turn your child into a confidante or sounding board, even if they’re mature for their age. Dumping your fears, grief, or anger on your kids may feel good at the time, but it will leave lasting scars on their psyches. Even if they behave as though it doesn’t affect them, it does. Children are hurting enough as a result of their parents choosing to go their separate ways. They are more than likely making up stories in their head about what they could have done differently or changed in order for their parents to still be together. Remember that your children are not tools or pawns to place in the middle of your divorce process. Don’t use them to pass notes, comments, or child support checks to the other parent. They are children, so allow them to be children. You can help them to heal by keeping them out of any drama going on between you and your ex-partner.
4. Be Present with Your Children.
Your children are only young once and their childhood will be gone before you know it. The fight over the tea set will not matter when your children are 20 years old and you missed out because you were busy fighting with the other parent. When I say “be present” I mean much more than merely being in the same room or house as them: I mean really listening to what they say. Putting the phone down and focusing eye to eye with them. Listening in a third way. Not listening to be right; not listening to make them wrong; not just waiting for them to stop talking so you can make all your points. Don’t make dinner and eat it in front of the TV – or eat at the table but only half listening to the conversation while you think about work, your secret lover, or what color to paint the kitchen. If you don’t establish the practice of active listening with your children while they’re young, they’ll turn elsewhere when it comes time to talk about big issues like drugs, sex, or bullying. You won’t be privy to this crucial information and may miss important opportunities to guide, support, or protect your child.
I have found through both my law practice and my work with couples through Equine Gestalt Coaching that when people are able to heal the unfinished business from their own past, they are able to be a much better parent to their children and co-parent with their ex-partner.
Andrea Hall is a lawyer, speaker, author, and coach who helps people find the strength and courage to move past obstacles, break unhealthy patterns, and shift perspective to achieve their goals and biggest dreams. “The whisper of the horse echoes the spirit of the soul®”.