One day you are living a pretty normal life. You have the spouse, kids, cars, a mortgage. You are happy – well every marriage has its ups and downs doesn’t it? Then your spouse announces makes an announcement seemingly out of the blue: the marriage is over. Not someone else’s marriage – your marriage.
With the divorce rate as it is, this scenario – or some version of it – happens everyday in Australia. It may very well have already happened to you. Unfortunately, you like most people, may be at a complete loss of what to do next. Which is unfortunate because what happens next is very important. In fact, it could be the most important “next” in yours, your ex’s and your children’s lives.
With your marriage now seemingly ‘done’ what you used to consider as everyday parenting or financial conversations with your ex are now more accurately described as negotiations. And very different DIY Divorce negotiations from the commercial negotiations that you face at work or in the car showroom. The conversations you have with your ex post separation are an entirely different type of negotiation for several salient reasons. Here are some:
1. Divorce is likely to be the biggest financial negotiation of your life
After all, divorce involves the splitting all of your marital assets, debts and liabilities. It may also involve splitting your or their future income. Need I say more?
2. Divorce involves negotiating time with your children
If you have children under 18, divorce is likely to involve negotiating for time with your children. Court orders may be sought in some instances, but for the most part, and particularly in the first few months, time with your children will need to be negotiated with your ex.
3. Divorce will then have immeasurable implications for your children (some good, some bad), friends and family
Divorce will affect your kids intimately whether they are babies, teenagers or adults. And your friends and extended family. How you handle your negotiations with your ex, particularly around custody, has important consequences not only for and your ex but your children, parents, grandparents, cousins, godparents and close family friends.
4. Unlike other commercial negotiations, divorce has ongoing effects that will affect you in some way shape or form for the rest of your life
This is especially so if you have children together. As Nora Ephron said, “Marriages come and go, but Divorce is forever”. We would add Parenting to this list.
5. While your divorce may have come as a shock, you still know your ex very well
Indeed, you possibly know your ex better than anyone else, their values, drivers and interests. On the positive side, this means that you know how to press your ex’s buttons. On the downside, they will also know how to press yours. This is very different from most commercial negotiations.
6. Divorce is a negotiation about which everyone has an opinion
And we mean everyone. From my experience, people have no hesitation on giving their option on what you should accept, what you shouldn’t, what you should say/not say/do/not do. Everyone knows someone “who got 80% of the assets” “got nothing” or “got everything”. So it is important to know who to trust and who to listen to.
7. If you don’t make a decision via negotiation with your ex (with or without lawyers), a court will
At enormous financial, time, energy and emotional expense to both parties (and any children). Alternatively in Australia, if you don’t undertake particular actions within certain timeframes, your right to take legal action may be revoked. This means that things will remain the same – which means you could miss out big time.
8. You will be required to make decisions in your negotiations when you are not emotionally equipped to do so
Divorce settlement negotiations come at a time when emotions – yours and theirs – are generally running hot. Again, it is important that while you listen to a few select people but you make your own decisions regarding your divorce (including decisions as to finances and parenting). While understandably tempting, it is short sighted to allow others to make such decisions for you. After all, it is your life, your children and your bank balance that will be affected – not your lawyer’s, your friend’s or your counsellor’s. It is therefore your responsibility.
Divorce is all about negotiation. How you behave or what you say from the very beginning can impact your divorce negotiations. You can throw a reactive grenade for the sheer pleasure of revenge or you can use what you know and think strategically for the long term. Remember: while there aren’t many things that you can control in your divorce and in your divorce negotiations, you can control your behaviour and to some extent, where you put your energy.
So where should you put this energy? How do you start your “next”? Well that is a whole different topic. But we would start with this simple tip: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. Start a budget. Photocopy those important financial documents. Work out your assets and debts. Think about a parenting schedule. Just start!