Very few people contemplating divorce think, “I want to make this process as difficult and as expensive as possible.” In our experience, most people who are initiating the divorce process think, “I would like to make this as quick and painless as possible.” What happens, then, that so frequently turns the divorce process into combat? More importantly, what can you do to avoid the costly and destructive process of a bitterly litigated divorce?
TIP ONE: You should retain a good therapist and work through the anger and pain in the privacy of the counselor’s office rather than the public forum of the courtroom, and find an attorney you trust to help guide you to logical decisions.
One reason the divorce process is done wrong is that the emotions of fear and hurt can run rampant. Emotions impact decision making, and can often take over logical thinking and analysis. Rarely, however, no matter how egregious the conduct of either spouse, will a spouse’s conduct during the marriage have a substantial impact on the outcome of the divorce.
TIP TWO: You should consider stating in the divorce complaint that the marriage simply is irretrievably broken, regardless of what actually caused the marriage to end.
Too often, the divorce process starts out on the wrong foot when one spouse opts to include fault grounds for divorce in the initial filing. Another way to have a smooth divorce and reduce potential animosity is to take advantage of Georgia’s “no fault” provisions. A complaint for divorce must state the grounds for the divorce, and Georgia provides 13 grounds. However, the marriage will be terminated upon completion of the divorce process regardless of whether the grounds alleged are that the marriage is irretrievably broken, or that there has been adultery, or cruel treatment.
TIP THREE: Having realistic expectations about the division of assets will help keep your attorneys’ fees lower and prevent disappointment when the case is concluded. Keeping this in mind, it is important to be cautious of any attorney who makes promises to the contrary.
Georgia is an equitable division of property state. That means that the assets, and liabilities, accumulated during the marriage, will be divided fairly. In almost all situations, “fairly” is going to be something very close to 50-50. Of course, every situation is different, and every outcome will be different, but if you expect to receive a far greater share of the assets than 50%, you are going to spend a lot of time and money fighting what may be an unsuccessful battle. At the end of that battle, regardless of the ultimate division, the assets will have been depleted by the payment of attorneys’ fees and other expenses of litigation.
TIP FOUR: If you are the spouse that needs alimony, again, be realistic and know that even if the other spouse is the one that wants the divorce, and maybe even has already started a new relationship, the court will not leave him or her penniless as punishment. Having such realistic expectations will help to prevent animosity during the potential settlement negotiations, and, in turn, can aid in achieving a resolution.
Many spouses left the paid workforce to become homemakers and rear the children. For those spouses who have not worked outside of the home for a number of years, alimony will typically be awarded, unless there are substantial assets with which that spouse can support herself or himself. In Georgia, there are two questions that are paramount in determining whether alimony will be awarded: need and ability to pay. What that means is that while one spouse may have a significant need for alimony, the other spouse may not have a significant ability to pay alimony. The court will approach the question of alimony with the goal of ensuring that both spouses have the ability to move successfully on when the divorce process is over.
TIP FIVE: Rather than leaving the vitally important decision of custody of your children up to a stranger, engage in co-parenting counseling, remember that the children love both parents, and try to remain flexible about the parenting plan.
Finally, a custody battle is very expensive and can also be very destructive. Unless one parent suffers from an addiction or mental illness that affects that parent’s ability to care for the children, or is abusive to the children, the general rule is that children should have frequent and meaningful contact with both parents. Occasionally, one parent, who has not been particularly involved with the children and their activities, will develop a sudden interest in becoming a better parent. Rather than resent that development, you should celebrate it. The children will benefit from a better relationship with the other parent. The court will have the very difficult job of deciding what is in the children’s best interest if you and the other parent are not able to figure it out on your own, and, despite the best of intentions, a court is rarely in a better position to make those decisions than are the parents. We’ve recently written another blog post you can read about the six questions most people ask about co-parenting after divorce.