When getting divorced, it’s both tempting and easy to skip over the most important step. What’s most important is not filing with the court. It is not figuring out what your rights might be. It is not meeting with a divorce lawyer. What’s most important? It’s formulating goals about what’s most important for your divorce process and post-divorce life. Good goals are clear, broad, and based on your hopes of what might be possible. Having good goals will help define your divorce strategy.
Because it can be difficult to think positively while in the middle of it all, I suggest imaging yourself five years after the divorce is done. Try hard to bring as vivid a picture of a future before you when you and your ex- are healed, and you have a new life that works. From that vantage point, what would you hope to say about your divorce? What would you wish your children to say about their parents’ divorce? What would you desire your family, friends, and in-laws to say about your divorce? What from your divorce allowed you to reach that vantage point?
Setting goals helps you create clarity about how you want your future to be. It also helps inform which strategies are most likely to help you reach that future. The saying “a problem well defined is half solved” applies. Use your goals as a measuring stick for your decisions and behaviors—does the decision or behavior make reaching your goals more likely or less likely?
For example, if your goal is to reach agreement in your divorce, it’s probably a better strategy to speak with your spouse about how you would like to approach your divorce and cooperating, instead of serving him/her with legal divorce papers. Or, if your goal is to create a healthy co-parenting relationship, it’s probably a better strategy to work hard in co-parent counseling/coaching instead of fighting in court about custody. If your goal is to have a future that works financially, it may be a better strategy to work with your spouse to optimize your financial outcomes instead of depleting funds in courtroom battles.
If you see a desire in the examples I gave for a future not defined by current turmoil, you’re correct. My clients often have these types of goals, so they can work towards a more comfortable future. For them, these types of goals inform their strategies and work during divorce, knowing that agreement only occurs when everyone can say “yes.” Getting to “yes” in divorce usually takes time and work, and you’re unlikely to get there by engaging in behaviors that undermine a willingness to reach agreement. Stated more plainly, taking unilateral actions (such as using court procedures) or making demands may not be your smartest move if you have similar goals. Strategic cooperation may be a better approach, and choosing a process such as divorce mediation or Collaborative divorce may be a good strategy.
Before choosing any process, test it against your goals. It’s important that your divorce process is truly in alignment with your goals. So first take the time to do that critical first step: set goals for your divorce. If a post-divorce future is inevitable, what do you hope it will bring? Once defined, you can then better decide how to achieve that future.