Divorce is serious business with real world consequences. Even so, as we explained previously, not every uncoupling has to drag out over months or years. If you know your divorce is inevitable, there are ways to speed the process along, file for divorce as cleanly as possible, and get yourself onto the next stage of life.
Two experienced family law attorneys, Bari Weinberger of the Weinberger Law Group in New Jersey and Emily McFarling of the McFarling Law Group in Nevada, took time out of their busy practices to offer advice on how to streamline divorce as much as possible.
1) Make the decision
Sometimes the part of the divorce process that takes the longest is making the decision in the first place. It’s by no means an easy task. Research from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that less than half of respondents think that “divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems.” But once you make the call, it’s possible to move with efficiency and relative speed.
2) Be honest with your spouse—and yourself
Of course, it’s not just you who has to decide. McFarling says that the process slows and becomes exponentially more frustrating if one spouse wants the divorce but the other is resistant.
“You cannot stop a divorce even if you do not agree. You hear so often “she’s the one wanted this, not me!” which is completely irrelevant,” McFarling says. “You have to move past that, accept the marriage is ending, and be level-headed.” The American Psychological Association (APA) puts it this way: “Try not to think of the breakup as a battle.”
3) Prepare for filing your case
Compiling all your financial documents, ownership records, forms, and other important papers is one of the most time-consuming (and important) parts of moving towards a divorce settlement. It is also one of the ways that people can speed the process along and save themselves some money.
“In the interest of saving time, it’s a good idea to make income determination a priority right off the bat in the divorce,” says Weinberger, drawing on her 18 years of experience as a family law attorney. “When income is determined at the outset of the divorce, it is less likely that there will be a dispute regarding support calculations and payment responsibilities,” she adds.
4) Get help when you need it
There are many parts of the divorce process that couples can handle on their own, but when a professional is needed, use one. Asking for help when you need it instead of trying to muddle through can have big impact.
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Both McFarling and Weinberger see the benefits and the downsides to the DIY approach, and both are happy to review any documents or settlements that a couple might have done themselves. “But what we tend to see more frequently, are parties coming to us with a self-negotiated settlement that unfortunately contains gaping errors and discrepancies that put one or both parties, and their children, at significant risk,” Weinberger says.
McFarling has another caveat for DIYers getting a lawyer to check their work: “I always represent one party, though, and make sure the other party either gets an attorney or signs a certificate of self-representation as these scenarios can lead people to thinking you represent them both, which I cannot do.”
5) Consider mediation (or other alternatives to court)
In the mediation process, a neutral third party will work with the individuals to reach a negotiated settlement. “Working with a third-party neutral can be beneficial to move people off of positions they might be stuck on,” McFarling says. Weinberger agrees. She points to the frustration and delays inherent in the court process.
“Waiting for far-off court dates in our overcrowded court systems can be frustrating, and the amount of time and effort it takes to prepare for court can be overwhelming,” she says. If the spouses can sit down and negotiate a settlement, they can be in control of a situation that often feels like the opposite.
The APA even points to surveys that demonstrate that couples that work with a mediator “can be beneficial for emotional satisfaction, spousal relationships, and children’s needs.” You can even hire a “divorce concierge” to help smooth the process.
6) Listen to advice (from the right places)
Listen to the people who do this type of thing every day. “If you find yourself starting to dig in a fight over who gets the microwave, it’s probably time to refocus,” Weinberger suggests.
McFarling also appreciates the outside perspective of a mediator or judge and their advice. “If you have a party sticking to an unreasonable position that is impeding settlement, there is nothing better than when a retired judge says, ‘I was on the bench for 20 years and what you’re asking for will never happen,'” she explains.
7) Keep an open mind about custody arrangements
One thing you most definitely should not rush is the conversation about how to handle your kids.
Custody is often the most contentious part of any divorce. Spouses should focus on what a court would focus on: what’s best for the health and welfare of the children. The results might not be what parents expected. “Both parents may want full custody, but in the vast majority of divorcing families, it is in the best interest of a child to have both parents involved in their lives,” Weinberger says.
People need to do their best to think long-term when it comes to the custody agreement, McFarling advises. “Modifying custody agreements comes with a burden, so I try to tell the client that this is an agreement they need to be prepared to live with until the child turns 18,” she says. “While modification is legally possible, you have to have a basis and sour grapes is not one.”
8) Find a speedy venue
Some states make divorce easier and faster than others, since they have brief (or even non-existent) residency and separation requirements. Nevada is one such state, long known for speedy divorces (which possibly offset Las Vegas’s speedy nuptial options).
“Luckily, if parties agree, Nevada is the fastest place in the country to get divorced,” says McFarling, who has practiced family law for over a decade. “If you get a cooperating department, we can divorce people in a matter of days.”
9) Move on, together, but apart
Gwyneth Paltrow caused a lot of eye-rolling when she announced that she and Chris Martin were “consciously uncoupling.” As explained by two psychologists on her lifestyle site Goop, that meant choosing an intentionally lower-friction, alternative way to look at the end of a marriage and moving towards a fulfilling, sustainable, long-term relationship.
Whether Paltrow’s new-agey approach is right for you is an individual decision, but mentally moving on from the marriage is essential.
And finally, one caveat:
McFarling reminds all her clients that when the divorce is over, it’s over. That means that even people who want to move the process along quickly need to carefully review everything. A rush to judgment is one of the most troubling things McFarling sees in her practice. A client will agree to a bad deal just to get the thing done.
“There is a value to finality, but in the moment, sometimes a client will assign too much value to the case being over, which will likely lead to significant regrets later.”