How to Win at Divorce

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Divorce bites.  It’s the end of the happily-ever-after story that a couple starts long before their wedding day. 

It means facing loved ones and admitting to being among the 50% of “failed” marriages.  It requires splitting up all shared properties, possessions, and sentimental treasures and moving from a comfortable home into something smaller and less family-like.  And worst of all, it means explaining to the children that the two important adults in their lives can no longer live together and they will now be forced to ping-pong between their parents’ two separate homes. 

It’s no picnic.  But there are ways to succeed at the process and make it less horrific.

No, this doesn’t require getting a more aggressive lawyer than your spouse, airing that person’s dirty laundry and grabbing a bigger piece of the collective pie.  First you have to ask yourself what does success look like? 

Personally, I wanted my dignity and relationships in tact.  I wanted my kids- and myself- to be strengthened by the experience rather than diminished.  I wanted to come out feeling good about who I am, to grow rather than shrink. 

This is definitely possible, but it requires setting aside the anger, hurt and desire for validation and taking the long-range view on the situation. 

Knowing how raw and painful the process is, it amazes me how frequently I see signs of it in my mediation office.  Clients demonstrate their desire to prioritize a decent working relationship with their former spouses by treating them with great respect and making concessions that exceed minimal requirements.

Below are real-life examples of what clients have said to the person across the table as they negotiate a parenting plan for their children or the division of their assets and liabilities.

I really want you to assume financial responsibility for yourself, but I know you don’t have the money right now to do that.  While you’re going through school, I’ll pay more since I make more.

Vacations are great for the kids.  I’ll miss them but if you can take them on a big trip, go for it!

You know my parents started a college fund for the kids years ago.  Let’s share that and then we can each contribute equally once it is exhausted.

If I plan on going out when the kids are with me, I’ll ask if you want them before calling a babysitter.

They’re both of our kids so we both need to make the major decisions for them.

I’m working very hard at staying sober, but it’s only been three weeks.  Why don’t we make you responsible for all major decisions for the kids until I’ve been sober for at least a year.

We needed a lot of duplicate furniture once we split so we should share the cost of the furniture for your new home.

The kids haven’t seen your parents in two years.  Why don’t you take them this Christmas and I’ll have them next year.

Since the basement is already outfitted for your mother, you can keep the house and I’ll take the larger retirement account.  I don’t want you to have to move her.

Some of these statements you might make to a casual friend (“I’ll drop the kids off at your house so you don’t have to make an extra drive after work”), some are sacrifices a person might make for a brother or favorite aunt.   

These offerings, made while people are in the midst of one of the most painful points in their lives, point the way toward a successful divorce. 

They’ve probably yelled, cried or ranted at the person their addressing, yet in these moments they’re looking far enough down the road to see what is important, where they want to go and to take steps to get there.