How This Divorce Lawyer Faced Her Own Divorce
“DIVORCE” — it had crossed my mind for several years before I ever said it out loud. One snowy night, while waiting for my ex-husband to arrive home (he was late and I was alone, again), it hit me — if this was as good as my marriage would get, it just wasn’t good enough. That day, I made a private resolution to get a divorce. A few days later, while chatting with my best friend, I heard “I’m unhappy in my marriage and I want a divorce” just tumble out of my mouth. For a moment, the phrase hung between us, almost frozen in the air. It felt surreal. It felt scary. It felt sad. But at the same time, hearing myself admit it out loud was liberating and soon after I felt ready to take the first steps.
As a divorce lawyer, I have helped countless people through their own divorces. Complex, emotional, tragic — I’ve seen it all. Naturally, because of my profession, everyone assumed that deciding to get a divorce would be the hardest part for me. The rest of the process will be easy, they said — “you already know what to do.”
In truth, I was paralyzed with fear. I felt disoriented, shaky and unsure of where or how to begin unraveling the last 15 years of my life. So, I clung to the mantra I had repeated to so many of my clients, “take baby steps.” By breaking the divorce process down into smaller, manageable components, and implementing specific coping strategies, I was able to regain a sense of control. The closer I got to the finish line, the more empowered I felt.
Here’s how I did it:
1. Collect Important Documents
In most states, there are a handful of documents you will need to collect in order to file for divorce. No matter which process you utilize to get divorced (mediation, litigation, negotiation through attorneys etc.), you will probably be asked to collect documents such as your marriage certificate, social security numbers, and birth certificates for your children. Find out what documents your state requires you to present to the court and start collecting them (you can usually find this on your county’s court website).
Next, you should itemize all of your assets and debts. Write down what existed when you got married and what exists today. It’s ok if you can’t access information for assets and debts in your spouse’s name — you’ll have an opportunity to ask for that information later. Make your list as complete as possible and if you are meeting with an attorney bring this list to your first meeting.
The documents you need to collect will vary with your circumstances. It may feel overwhelming and confusing, but that’s OK. This is like preparing to file your taxes — it’s time-consuming and it’s daunting, but it’s completely doable. The key is taking it one step at a time. When I was getting divorced, I took my own advice — when I met with the professionals I hired to help me, I came to our meetings prepared. My preparation streamlined my divorce process, saving me money and stress.
Find out which documents you should collect and keep track of those you have already collected by getting a customized prep list from Divorceify.
2. Write Things Down
Take control of the time (and money) you spend with the professionals you hire by writing things down in advance.
Every divorce professional you meet with will start by asking you a series of questions to better understand your situation. Divorce is disorienting and the process itself feels all consuming. Your mind might feel clouded and your worries overwhelming. It can feel frustrating to answer all the questions your divorce professionals need to ask. Easy questions become difficult to answer accurately and it can feel like you are wasting time. Write a basic list of biographic information to share with your professional (family birthdates, SSNs, professional titles, salaries etc.) — they will be grateful for the easy to reference summary (Divorceify has a handy tool for this).
Once you are being peppered with questions, it’s hard to remember the questions that you want to ask. Whether you write a note in your phone each time you have a thought related to your divorce, or whether you journal at a consistent time each week — WRITE, WRITE, WRITE!
Jot down the questions you have for your professionals, the worries that keep you up at night, or the emotions you feel in the moment. This will help you clarify your goals and the issues you want to focus on as you navigate your divorce.
Putting pen to paper organizes your thoughts and eases the burden of your to-do list. This “baby step” will enable the professionals you hire to more efficiently and accurately assess your situation, leaving you less frustrated and more in control.
3. Identify Where You Agree & Disagree
The more you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse can agree on, the better off you will be. Understandably, agreeing with your spouse might feel like one of the lasts things you want to do. You might feel like you are giving in — but in reality, you are taking control and empowering yourself to strategically achieve a specific outcome. You want to leave your divorce with as much money in the bank for your future as possible — if you and your spouse can narrow the list of disputed items to work through with attorneys/mediators/therapists that’s money in your pocket.
If you and your spouse are able to communicate at all, start talking about your divorce and identify any areas of agreement. If you and your spouse agree on anything, write it down. If you can’t agree to everything (or anything) on your own, that’s ok; once you have identified areas of disagreement you can ask for help. An attorney can memorialize the agreements you did reach in a comprehensive settlement agreement and an attorney (or mediator) can also help resolve the outstanding issues.
As much as it pained me to discuss my divorce directly with my now ex-husband I did it to reduce costs and thus protect my own future. There were some things we were able to agree on and some that we weren’t — we sought professional help where we disagreed, but we were able to control costs by minimizing the list of items in dispute. Find an attorney or mediator that can help.
4. Get Active
I can assure you, during your divorce there will be days you just cannot get up in the morning. Some days I couldn’t get myself to take a shower or handle basic personal needs. I wanted to be left alone and I wanted to be in bed. When I’m in the midst of a crisis I tend to withdraw and take time to myself — that’s ok for a while, but ultimately indulging myself in this way became unproductive. I resolved early on to get myself out of the house each day by walking. I reserved thirty minutes to go outside and walk around my neighborhood — I breathed in the fresh air, I watched the birds flying, and I observed the scenes around me.
Research shows that physical activity has a profound effect on your mind and state of being. Increasing your physical activity (no matter how small) will improve the state of your mind, body, and soul. It will combat feelings of depression and improve your mood almost instantaneously — and it will have lasting effects.
Admittedly, I didn’t eagerly jump on an annual gym membership the day I decided to get divorced; just forcing myself to take thirty minutes for a walk around my neighborhood each day was groundbreaking. At first, that walk seemed like a chore. But each time I returned, I felt a tiny bit better. Over time, I found myself looking forward to this pocket of “me time” — I became more focused, clear and recharged.
5. For Five Minutes — Just Don’t Think About It
Seriously, just don’t think about your divorce for five minutes.
I was sitting in my therapist’s office when he said, “Sonia, for five minutes every day, you are prohibited from thinking about your divorce.” I laughed out loud when he said this, but I also wanted to hit him over the head and run out of his office screaming. “This guy really doesn’t get it,” I thought. But, his assignment kept resurfacing in my thoughts and then one morning, when I woke up feeling at my lowest, I decided to try my therapist’s suggestion — just don’t think about it. And, IT. WAS. HARD.
It felt almost painful to stop thinking about my divorce because I actually felt I needed to wallow. I just felt so sorry for myself. But, I committed in advance that I would not think about my divorce for three minutes because that was the number that felt manageable to me. (Remember, “baby steps.”)
I sat on my couch with a cup of tea and I stared at the clock. The cup of tea was warm and comforting in my hand. I thought about the smell of the tea. I thought about the different flavors of tea that I liked, and the ones that I did not like. I thought about my cats and the last time I brushed them. I looked out the window and wondered, “what are my neighbors doing?” Many ideas floated in and out of my stream of consciousness during those three minutes. It felt like an eternity. But when those three minutes ended, I felt bold, accomplished, and empowered. I had overcome a very big hurdle — I HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT MY DIVORCE FOR THREE MINUTES.
As my divorce progressed, three minutes turned into five, into an hour, into days, and eventually, my life changed. I started with three minutes and ended with a completely changed mindset.
So really, each day, set aside five minutes to do anything BUT think about your divorce. This is going to be hard. It might even sound impossible, but it will get easier and one day you’ll realize that you have gone hours (maybe even the whole day!) without thinking about your divorce.
Every divorce is different, but these five strategies helped me take control and approach my own divorce from a place of empowerment. Today, I’m happy to report that I’m thriving — and getting married again.