Dealing with divorce: how to ease the pain

Divorces are always devastating and painful no matter what, but they don't have to be a disaster. Here are five ways to minimize the pain of divorce.

Dealing with divorce: how to ease the pain

1. Have a kinder, gentler split-up

  • Bickering in court over small details of a settlement prevents you both from moving on with your lives, and the additional legal fees may well consume your assets quickly.
  • So once you decide to split up, the first person you should talk to is not your lawyer but your soon-to-be ex-spouse. You may not be at your greatest point of friendship, but if you can communicate effectively, what might have been World War III turns into a simple signing ceremony.

2. Keep relatives on the sidelines

Your divorce is yours and yours alone. You and only you must control it. No matter how well intentioned or well informed your family members are, it's almost always best to accept their emotional support but keep them away from the action. 

3. Look beyond a 50-50 split

  • The idea that splitting everything down the middle is the only fair way to divide marital assets is so entrenched that few people question it. In fact "fair does not always mean equal," says Jane Tremblay, a member of Collaborative Practice Toronto.
  • Your lesson in all this, if you're getting divorced, is to avoid getting hung up on some perfect 50-50 solution. "Look at the big picture," advises Tremblay. "Are you getting what you want and need, in an overall package that strikes you as fair?" Focus on what you want, not what the calculator says you should have.

4. Don't let lawyers run wild with the case

  • Divorce lawyers tend to be set in their ways, going about things as they've been trained to do, which is not necessarily the best way for your particular case. As a result, costs skyrocket, squabbles proliferate and the case drags on.
  • To keep control and save costs, both sides in a contested divorce need to know who owns what so that the assets can be divided fairly. Where possible, it's better for you and your spouse to sit down together like adults and get the documentation done in a day or two.

5. Be wary of potential financial traps

No matter how friendly your divorce is, when it comes to financial matters and divvying up property, it pays to question everyone's motives. Here are three traps you should avoid falling into:

  • Never exchange a solid asset for a debt payment unless you're sure that the debt is going to get paid. You're better off taking on your share of the debt while claiming your share of the assets.
  • Make sure you, your lawyer or your accountant considers the tax implications of any asset you're claiming or conceding. You don't want to get hit down the road with something like a capital-gains tax on the sale of property that you didn't even get to keep.
  • Don't be overly generous in hopes of wooing your spouse back to the marriage. It almost never works. You end up just as divorced, but worse off financially than you should be, and more bitter than you would have been. Being civil and cooperative is laudable. Letting yourself get taken advantage of isn't.

A winning divorce strategy

Think strategically. Just ask yourself three questions whenever any issue arises during the proceedings:

  • How much is this issue really worth to me? Strategic thinkers evaluate their goals.
  • How likely is it that I'll win this battle? Strategic thinkers choose their battles realistically.
  • What is it costing me to fight about this thing? Strategic thinkers care about coming out ahead financially, not just winning battles.
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