Category Archives: cheating
Every couple argues, and every argument affects their intimacy as well as the emotional distance between them. Some disagreements leave only minimal or temporary scars that fade with time. The couple’s love continues to deepen, seemingly undamaged. Unfortunately, escalating or stinging arguments can leave deep and lasting fissures that damage relationships.
Many areas of conflict can determine the fate of a relationship, but the most crucial one is each partner’s underlying attitude is towards the other. Whether unconscious or intended, that core set of thoughts is often deeply embedded, pervasive, and negatively biased. As the argument heats up, one or both of the partners will fall back into this default position, dooming any hope of successful resolution.
Default positions are most likely to intensify in established relationships. The longer people have been together, the more they are likely to repeat established patterns. These ritualistic interactions usually emerge slowly in intimate relationship but can explode early on if any differences are pronounced and passionate. Because they are often intertwined with positive aspects, they can often stay invisible too long, causing much greater problems down the line. They are also deeply defended against rational inquiry, and can be notably resistant to change.
When these internal, fixed attitudes are not identified and corrected, the partners in an intimate relationship do not realize how much power they have to affect their disputes. They do know that most of their arguments leave them drowning in whirlpools of confusion, often not remembering what they were arguing about, or why their resolutions didn’t hold.
Negative default positions are often relationship destroyers. No matter how much a more typical relationship partner loves and values another, he or she will not be able to survive continuous onslaughts of negative default positions. It is the classic “I can’t win for losing” conundrum.
Anytime either partner comes from a core experience of a basic negative attitude towards the other, all disagreements will eventually be twisted into a one-sided criticism that defies reality. Those pre-determined expressions of invalidation will doom the targeted partner to a life of defending his or her basic worth. Unless martyrdom is the goal, that person will eventually leave the relationship.
If you can identify your own fixed, negative default positions, you can replace them with a far more successful set of skills that can turn frustrating, repetitive conflicts into positive resolutions. When you have mastered that new process, you can create a deeper intimacy through embracing each other’s differences and opening up to the possibilities of deeper intimacy.
Examples of Negative Default Positions
Wipe-outs are verbal invalidations that erase a partner’s estimated value in the moment. The partner using a wipe-out will use any interaction to exaggerate faults and minimize any positive contribution. Any attempts by the target of a wipe-out to rectify a misunderstanding, make-up for a mistake, or just to create a quality interaction, are met with challenges. These continuously criticized partners live in the tragedy gap of never feeling “good enough.”
Negative Default Position:
She’s such a loser. I wonder what excuse she’ll use this time.
She: “Hi honey. Dinner is going to be a little late. I got stuck in the market talking to our next door neighbor and lost track of time. How are you?”
He: “What do you mean, how am I? What’s that, your attempt to cover up breaking the deal again? I might as well never believe anything you tell me because you can’t keep your word. Why do I ever expect you’re going to do what you say?
She: “Hey, you’re being really mean. Let up. It’s no big deal, 15 minutes. Why are you so angry?”
He: “Don’t lay this on me just to get out of it. Just because it’s a small example doesn’t mean you get to minimize it. Don’t bother. I’m going out to get a hamburger.”
Some relationship partners are so concerned with being controlled that they won’t let their partners have the final say in anything. They will argue, invalidate, or dismiss any comment that might put them in the one-down position, even if their partners are correct. Their core feeling is that their partners will dominate them if they are not kept in their places. Because of their fear of being less-than, they don’t allow in any information that might change their minds.
Negative Default position:
He would run my whole life if I allow him to.
He: “I just saw Tim and Jean at the park and they want us to join them later for a BBQ? I told them we were free tonight. How about it, sweetheart? It’s a beautiful night and we haven’t been out all week. Might warm us up a little.”
She: “You always spring these things on me. I already have something I have to do tonight. Tell them thanks but maybe some other time.”
He: “You told me this morning that you were looking forward to the weekend because you didn’t have any obligations. You didn’t tell me you already had something you had to do.”
She: “Just because I told you I didn’t have any obligations doesn’t mean I wanted you to find one for me.”
He: “But you told me that you like this couple and wished we could spend more time with them. I don’t understand.”
She: “Just don’t make plans for me without asking first, okay? I’m not some kind of plug-in partner whenever you want to do something.”
Unfortunately, there are intimate partners who are so afraid that their desires will be thwarted that they imagine the worst possible outcome and pre-defeat their needs. Any partner behavior that smacks of a potentially positive outcome will be met with a rapid invalidation. They would rather live an unfulfilled life than risk disappointment or disillusionment. They usually attract positive people who want to save them from their continuous expectations of doom. Those locked-in expectations of loss can defeat even the most ardent of rescuers.
Nothing ever works out for the better, so why even try?
She: “Hi, honey. I’ve got great news. I got the promotion and the raise. We can finally plan that great vacation we’ve always wanted.”
He: “Does that mean you’ll have to work longer hours. You’re never home as it is.”
She: “Well, probably for a while. But why are you focusing on that? This is the opportunity of my life to finally make it and you were all for it. What’s the problem?”
He: “I’m not trying to spoil your deal. I just know that things don’t come for free and we’ll have to make sacrifices. I don’t want to count on something without knowing what it’ll cost. And it always does, you have to admit. So we get to go on a great vacation. They’ll take it out on you some way, and we’ll be the losers.”
Successful Default Positions
It is not possible for couples to eliminate all default positions. Everyone needs a confident and secure platform to fall back on when they are in a conflict situation. If relationship partners understand each other’s core attitudes and evaluations, they know what to expect in a disagreement. Until those core evaluations are clearly seen and changed when necessary, the couple will drown in repeated disagreements and are doomed to repeat them.
For positive conflict resolution, both partners must be willing to re-evaluate their default positions on a regular basis. They must strike a balance between validating each other’s positions while being while simultaneously being realistic about their differences. When couples are willing to openly communicate their core default positions to one another, they can evaluate together whether they are relationship supportive or destructive.
If a couple understands the danger of extreme negative default positions, they can begin making them more realistic. They must also reevaluate what they truly feel inside as a disagreement begins. Negative extreme positions highly correlate with eye-rolling, extreme doubt, and words of invalidation or defense. They are impervious to new data. It is similar to a courtroom situation where the gavel has come down and no new discovery is allowed.
Successful default positions have several things in common:
They are objective
They are flexible
They search for old negative patterns that hurt the relationship
Both partners are eager to rid themselves of any locked-in prejudices that can keep them from learning more about each other. They are interested and intrigued by where their fixed biases were formed, and why they have continued to use them.
Examples of Successful Default Positions
Most partners get into trouble when they argue because each loses perspective and holds more tightly to their own reality. As the disagreement takes on energy and fear of loss, they are more likely to fall prey to an old pattern that erases any reality but their own.
Intimate partners, as they strive to be deeply heard and validated by the other, can feel the negative energy begin to destroy that possibility, and stop it before it takes hold.
Successful default position:
You are important to me. Your way of looking at any situation matters to me. I never want to win at your expense or erase what you are feeling and thinking. Our best solution to any argument is a new truth forged out of mutual respect for each of our positions.
He: “I just don’t like that restaurant. The food tastes old, the waiters are rude, and the prices are too high. Don’t ask me to go there again.”
She: “I think you’re being really rigid about this. We’ve had good times there before. You’ve even recommended it to our friends. Why should one bad night make you want to cross them off our list forever?”
He: (heating up) “You’re not listening to me. I had a lousy time tonight. Why can’t you just accept that I’m angry and stop trying to change my mind?”
She: (Realizing they are losing objectivity) “Hold on, sweetheart. I think we’re sliding. My default position in the past was to make everything nice and yours has been to not get ripped off. We need to listen to each other. The food was bad tonight and I shouldn’t be making excuses for it.”
He: (relaxing) “And I shouldn’t be so goddamn opinionated. I had a day filled with stupid, rude people and I’m way overreacting. Sorry, babe. Let’s call the manager and tell him how we felt about it. He’s a great guy.”
When couples begin to differ, they often become rigid in their positions. As the argument heats up, that rigidity has to wipe out any other data in order to survive. What could have been an opening for seeing the world from more than one perspective quickly becomes a top-down need to win. As each partner stiffens, the other pushes back, mocks a giving-in, or disconnects. Both seem to fear that one opinion will stand at the expense of the other.
With the loss of flexibility, both partners are likely to forget that they can damage their intimacy if either of them is sacrificed. Childhood patterns of submission or rebellion increase, and maturity diminishes.
Successful default position:
I trust you. I know that you want me to feel heard and validated. Even if we are disagreeing in the moment, I know we will find a way to stay open to each other’s way of thinking. I need to stay flexible and not jump to conclusions because staying close is better.
She: “I am really upset about the way you treated my mom today. She didn’t do anything to hurt you and you were so rude. She left upset and now I’m going to have to fix it. I want you to call her and apologize. At least tell her you were just in a bad mood and didn’t mean it. And you need to do it tonight so I can get some sleep.”
He: (surprised and rebellious) “Your mom is the most overly sensitive person I’ve ever known. I didn’t do anything that bad. She loves being a martyr and sets me up. Why aren’t you calling her and telling her that she overreacted to me? Why is it always my fault? You cater to her.”
She: (getting angrier and more rigid) “There you go again, making it someone else’s problem. Why don’t you ever own up to your contribution when things go wrong? My mom tried to be nice even after you were so critical. I’m not backing down here. You were wrong and you need to admit it.”
He: (realizing that they were slipping into negative default positions) “This isn’t good. We’re both hardening and making the other person the bad guy. I know you want everyone to be okay and I love that about you. It’s just hard when you want me to be the fall guy and I know that your mom isn’t helping.”
She: (taking a breath and listening) “You’re right. I do always defend her and that ends up making the problem between us. It shouldn’t be that way. I guess I trust you to do the right thing more than I trust her and it’s hard for me to listen to her complain about you. That’s not fair to you. I need your help to figure out a better way to handle this.”
What Are Your Default Positions?
Here are some questions that will help you identify and change your automatic default positions if they are turning your conflicts into disconnects and destroying the love between you.
When you and your partner begin to argue, what emotions and thoughts are behind your words?
As a conflict between you heats up, what facial expressions would you see if you were to look into a mirror?
Once you are locked into an argument, what do you believe your partner is thinking about you?
When you are arguing with your partner, do you remind yourself of people from your past that modeled that behavior?
Which of your default positions bring you closer or turn you farther away from your partner?
Once you are backed into a corner, can you alter your position?
Have you practiced the same default position in other close relationships?
Does your default position in your relationship truly reflect the way you feel about your partner?
It is a very helpful starting point for positive change if you and your partner honestly answer these questions and then share your answers. Come out from behind any negative default positions. Encourage each other to integrate what you consistently feel inside with how you present yourself in a conflict interaction. That process may uncover deeper heartaches between you at first, but you will become closer over time. Ignoring them will cause much more damage in the long run. What you can see, you can change.
By Kristen Mark
“The story of sex in committed modern couples often tells of a dwindling desire and includes a long list of sexual alibis, which claim to explain the inescapable death of eros.”
It is this idea, that sexual desire dwindles when in a committed relationship, that Perel successfully tackles in her book. Popular perception suggests that committed relationships mark the end of sex. Yet research shows that when asked, many people indicate sexual desire as a key feature ofromantic love.
The work of myself and others in the field suggests to me that sexual desire ebbs and flows throughout life and relationships.
Research by Murray and Milhausen (2012) recently tackled the length of relationship and desire connection, and found that length of relationship (in couples who were together for an average of 2 years) impacted sexual desire for women, but not men.
In research by Klusmann (2002), men’s sexual desire tended to remain high while women’s sexual desire is found to decrease as early as one year into the relationship.
In research I’ve conducted, I found that length of relationship (in couples who were together for an average of 4 years) didn’t impact sexual desire for women or men, and women and men were equally likely to be the member of the couple with lower sexual desire relative to their partner. And in interviews with women in a relationship for a minimum of 5 years, myself and colleagues have found that there are a number of factors that impact the ebb and flow of sexual desire.
Perhaps another reason the idea exists around sexual desire diminishing with length of relationship is the strong sexual desire in passionate love that is replaced by increased intimacy in companionate love (said to occur around two and a half years).
All of this also makes me wonder, is it the relationship length that is decreasing the desire? Or simply the other milestones (kids, moving in,career moves) that happen to correspond to relationship length? And how do we keep the desire in our relationships over the long haul?
Bringing it back to Mating in Captivity, where open and loving relationships are accompanied with dull sex lives, when we love someone, we feel responsible and secure. Responsibility and security clash with desire. So as the length of our relationship increases, we become closer to the individual, we have a greater sense of security, and we lose that animalistic sense of “throw down” that was such a large part of early sexual scripts in the relationship. As Perel puts it, “fire needs air, and many couples don’t leave enough air.”
Creating that space, or “air”, is perhaps one of the things that can be done in relationships when the desire is at a low ebb. But also just realizing that the ebbs of desire will be accompanied by upward flows is one way to ensure expectations for sex don’t get in the way of pleasure from sex, especially in the context of long-term relationships.
Bari Zell Weinberger, Esq.
Let’s start with the bad news: You’re on the road to divorce. But the good news is that romance, love and, yes, even marriage doesn’t need to end with divorce. In fact, a survey of 2,000 newly divorced people found that nearly 50 percent of divorced men were eager to get remarried, and 20 percent of divorced women were hoping to repeat their trip down the aisle. That’s inspiring news for everyone hoping to be hit by Cupid’s arrow once again.
But is dating during your divorce a good idea?
While it may indeed be true that “all’s fair in love,” a little common sense doesn’t hurt either. And while I’d never want to throw cold water on a budding romance, I have some words of wisdom that I’d like to share.
I have an immense amount of experience helping individuals and couples make it through the divorce process. And I have even helped many through the more peaceful and amicable process of divorce mediation, which can save everyone a great deal of time, stress and money. In light of these experiences, here’s my compassionate and informed advice if you’re thinking about jumping back into the dating scene, and perhaps even if you hear wedding bells ringing in your near future:
• If you’ve started your divorce process, honestly evaluate how your separation or divorce is going. Is it contested or uncontested? Is it demanding a lot of your time and resources? Is it emotionally overwhelming? You want to lay the groundwork for a new, strong relationship while you’re in a “good place” emotionally, psychologically and perhaps even financially, too. You also want to be able to devote your time and attention to your divorce, because the decisions you make during this time will affect you for years to come. Further, consider how your spouse may react when he or she finds out you’re dating. Is that going to add fuel to a highly contested divorce? More than likely, the answer is “yes.”
• If you haven’t started your divorce process, then it’s important that you know what the road ahead looks like — so you can prepare yourself and focus on the outcome you want. You also need to be aware that the process can be time consuming and, at times, exhaustive and difficult. After all, even the most amicable divorce is still a divorce, and it’s human nature to feel angry, sad and disappointed — and sometimes, all three at the same time.
• Be aware that there is a possibility that your dating behavior during divorce could affect custody and parenting issues. Your children haven’t achieved finality and closure of the divorce, and putting a new person in their life right now isn’t recommended by child psychologists.
Also, custody and parenting may be negatively impacted if your new boyfriend or girlfriend has a questionable past. This can further complicate the divorce process and significantly increase your legal fees if the focus becomes this new person, instead of you and your own divorce.
I also suggest that you be careful about having your boyfriend or girlfriend spend the night when you have overnights with the children. Innocently, the kids may comment to the other parent about how your boyfriend or girlfriend “tucked them into bed” or “gave them breakfast.” This could lead to an emotional response by your spouse and prevent settlement discussions from focusing on the real issues. Generally, if you use discretion and common sense and make an effort not to expose your children to your new boyfriend or girlfriend, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Happily ever after the second time ’round? Maybe — or maybe not
It’s interesting to note that second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages. While the reason for this higher divorce rate is unknown, it could be that some of these second marriages got off to a rocky start, because the ex-spouses didn’t deal with the emotional impact of their divorce, and aren’t really ready for another relationship — at least, not yet.
My best advice? When it comes to dating during or soon after divorce, rely on both the wisdom of your heart and the intelligence of your head — and not one instead of the other.
Divorce Financial Strategist(TM)
Deciding to proceed ahead with a divorce isn’t easy, and whether you reached that conclusion by yourself, were blindsided by a pronouncement from your husband, or something in between, you’re probably still a little numb and left wondering, “What do I do now?”
That question can be answered on many different levels, of course. But, as a Divorce Financial Strategist™ who exclusively works with divorcing women throughout the country, my advice is to direct your focus immediately on creating a solid strategy, one that will help you emerge from divorce in the best possible shape, both emotionally and financially.
How do you make that kind of game plan? Easy. I believe there is one thing you need to do that can make all the difference between a successful divorce settlement and one that is considerably less favorable:
Build a winning divorce team.
Yes, you need a “team.” In the past, divorce was a simpler process involving only the divorcing couple and their lawyers. But these days, you’ll also need the support of other professionals, particularly those who can help secure your financial interests both in the short- and long-term. To protect your financial stability and personal well-being, build a solid divorce team that includes these three essential players:
1. A Matrimonial/Family Law Attorney
Look for an attorney who exclusively handles divorce cases or devotes at least 75 percent of his/her practice to divorce. Ideally, your lawyer will be a member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, an organization requiring the fulfillment of several stringent professional conditions.
When interviewing potential candidates, please don’t hesitate to get a little nosy. Certainly, you’ll want to discuss the individual complexities of your case, but be sure to explore the lawyer’s own qualifications and fees as well. Honesty and openness are the best strategies here because there’s no need for any “surprises” once you’ve started working together. Find out answers to questions like these:
• How many cases has he/she has recently handled, how many have been settled and how many have gone to trial? What were the outcomes of these cases?
• Does he/she typically represent the husband or wife? What percentage of each?
• Will he/she personally handle all aspects of your case, or will your case be passed to a more junior attorney and/or paralegal (and at whose rate will you be charged)?
In addition, be certain you feel personally at-ease with whomever you choose. By its very nature, divorce is a delicate and emotional experience, and you need your attorney to be a trusted, supportive and forward-thinking resource throughout the entire process. “Bedside manner” is extremely important. I’ve had a number of clients who had to fire their otherwise highly qualified divorce attorney because the attorney did not respect women!
2. A Divorce Financial Planner
A divorce financial planner is not the same as a financial advisor, financial planner, stockbroker, CPA or accountant. A divorce financial planner is equipped with all the necessary specialized tools for the divorce process, including divorce financial planning, asset protection strategies and the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) designation.
As the financial expert on your team, your divorce financial planner should work hand-in-hand with your divorce attorney and take care of the critical financial tasks that are beyond the capacity of the attorney’s expertise. These tasks can range from preparing the financial affidavits to projecting the financial and tax implications of each divorce settlement option.
In addition, your divorce financial planner will also be responsible for creating the comprehensive financial analyses and projections that you and your divorce attorney will need to fully understand the short- and long-term financial and tax implications of each proposed divorce settlement offer. Your attorney will then use those conclusions to substantiate and justify his/her positions when negotiating with your husband’s attorney.
In certain cases, other additional specialists are needed as well, so be sure your divorce financial planner has the necessary contacts to bring in experts such as:
• A forensic accountant. A forensic accountant helps explore concerns about hidden income/assets/liabilities and/or the possible dissipation of marital assets. He/she may also be very useful when one or both spouses own a business or professional practice where it is rather easy to hide income/assets and/or delay revenues and increase expenses.
• A valuation expert. A valuation expert can determine the worth of a business or professional practice by using the “real” numbers determined by a forensic accountant. A valuation expert can also establish the value of an advanced degree or training, stock options and/or restricted stock, etc.
• A real estate appraiser. A real estate appraiser determines the value of the marital home and other real estate including vacation homes, commercial real estate and land, which are often the largest assets needing to be divided.
3. A Therapist/Counselor
Many people describe divorce as an emotional roller coaster, and at times, it can be difficult to navigate the ups and downs of the process. Because of this, your team should also include a qualified therapist who can help you cope with your feelings as the divorce process unfolds.
Even though this is a stressful time, please try to remember: It’s imperative to maintain your focus andThink Financially, Not Emotionally®. Treating the divorce as a business negotiation — which, in all honesty, is exactly what it is — will help you reach a divorce settlement agreement that financially protects you now and well into the future.
Granted, nothing about divorce is easy, but you don’t — and shouldn’t — have to go it alone. Build a top-notch divorce team with three key players — a matrimonial/family law attorney, a divorce financial planner and a therapist/counselor — and you’ll have the professional expertise and support you need to emerge from your divorce in the best shape possible, with your finances intact and your financial future secure.
Jeffrey A. Landers, CDFA™ is a Divorce Financial Strategist™ and the founder of Bedrock Divorce Advisors, LLC, a divorce financial strategy firm that exclusively works with women across the nation, who are going through, or might be going through, a financially complicated divorce.
He also advises happily married women who have seen their friends blindsided by a divorce initiated by their husbands and wonder (wisely) how financially vulnerable they’d be in that situation. Jeff developed the nation’s first Just in Case(TM): Secure Your Financial Future, a one-hour program, which quickly shows married women how to be prepared in the event of a future divorce with immediate, practical steps. He can be reached at Landers@BedrockDivorce.com.
All articles/blog posts are for informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice, retain a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author, who is not an attorney.
Follow Jeffrey A. Landers on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Bedrock_Divorce
In recent years, there have been several studies that suggest that some happy and satisfied newlyweds were still getting divorced. Paul Amato and Bryndl Hohmann-Marriott’s 2007 research is one such example; they found that there was a surprising number low-distress couples that were splitting up.
These findings led UCLA researchers Justin Lavner and Thomas Bradbury to speculate about the possible reasons for divorce among these seemingly happy couples. They suggested that there are four broad reasons for the findings: First, maybe the couples are just simply not as committed as other couples that stay together. Commitment has been shown to be an important factor as couples deal with difficulties and challenges in married life. Second, maybe one or both of the partners who seem satisfied with marriage have difficult personalities that, over time, lead to a decline in marital satisfaction. A third explanation could be that these satisfied couples encounter more stressful and challenging situations in life and that these difficulties lead to divorce. Finally, despite the aspects of marriage and life that are rewarding, perhaps there are subtle communication and conflict difficulties that progressively undermine the relationship over time.
To examine these possible explanations, Lavner and Bradury conducted a longitudinal study of 136 couples that provides some insight into the reasons why happy and satisfied newlyweds may eventually divorce. They selected a group of couples who, for the first four years of marriage, reported high satisfaction and general happiness with their marriages. These were not couples who were unhappy in these first few years. Lavner and Bradbury collected information about their levels of stress, their personalities and their commitment to the marriage. They also measured their communication skills in a laboratory activity that has been shown to reliably detect positive and negative strategies of communication and problem-solving. They then followed up these couples ten years later to see which ones were still married. By comparing those that were still married with those who got divorced, they were able to identify factors that distinguished the two groups.
They first compared whether or not the two groups were comprised of the same types of people. The results suggest that they were somewhat different groups. The group that divorced was younger, and the husbands had lower incomes. Also, the husbands in the divorced group were nearly twice as likely to have divorced parents than the husbands in the couples who stayed married. Wives’ incomes and history of parental divorce did not differ between the two groups. There were also no differences between the groups in terms of cohabitation and whether or not the couples had children. Yet, these findings suggest that the lives and experiences of individuals in these two groups of couples were somewhat different.
The next test was to determine if the couples who divorced were simply not as committed to the relationship. It is commonly believed that some couples just aren’t as willing to work hard on their relationship, but that was not the case in this sample. Both those who were still married and those who divorced had expressed similar commitment to the relationship in those early years of marriage.
In general, the two groups also did not differ in terms of the amount of stress that they experienced or in the personality traits of the husbands and wives.
The last hypothesis they tested was whether or not there were different communication styles between the couples. Although there were no differences in the degree of positive communication, there were notable differences in negative communication patterns. Couples who eventually divorced displayed more anger and contempt for their partners. When solving problems, they were more likely to disagree, and blame and invalidate the feelings of each other. In the laboratory, when asked to talk about an aspect of their lives that they would like to change, couples who divorced were more likely to express inappropriate pessimism, discourage the expression of feelings and insist that their partners resolve the situation on their own. Thus, it appears that the difference between these seeming satisfied young couples who divorce and those that don’t may be tied to negative communication and lack of support for each other that may eventually poison a satisfying relationship.
Lavner and Bradbury suggest that although there are positive aspects of these couples’ marriages, there are troublesome communication patterns that slowly grind away at the relationship. They write, “low-distress spouses may be able to avoid, “compartmentalize,” or rationalize the negative exchanges that do occur in the relationship.” It appears that in the long-run this strategy does not work.
By Linda C. Senn
When it becomes clear that your marriage is over, and no amount of pretense or counseling can fix what is broken, you’ll need to line up an attorney to represent you in the divorce process. At this extremely vulnerable time, you’ll be placing your life and your future in your attorney’s hands, and you’ll add one more worry to your ample list of stresses — the high cost of divorce!
Attorneys usually charge an hourly rate calculated in 15-minute increments — even if the service takes only a minute or two of his time. That “quick little call” you make to your lawyer could cost you from $50 up. If you succumb to the temptation to call every day, your monthly charge just for phone calls can run well over $1,000. If the process drags on for a year, you’ll pay $12,000 and up just for those brief daily calls!
Here are ten simple steps for saving big bucks over the course of separation and divorce; some of the tips are general and can be applied to other legal situations as well.
Saving money on legal fees starts before you have your first attorney interview. Round up all the personal referrals you can from friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors who were happy with their own divorce lawyers. Ask if the client’s calls were returned in a timely manner, or if sustained nagging was required to get a call-back. The bill should run far less for a focused, efficient attorney than it would for a disorganized one. Did that attorney stall or delay the process? Did she favor lengthy debates between opposing attorneys? Was her billing accurate, detailed, and free from “fluff?” These factors can have a major effect on the final cost.
During your initial telephone interview with the attorney, ask what he charges and how it’s calculated. Is it a flat hourly fee charged in 15-minute increments, or is it figured by some other method? Ask if he requires an initial retainer, and if so, how much for your situation. Complex divorces often call for a more substantial amount. Tell him that you want to keep the costs to a reasonable minimum and ask if he’ll help you to do so.
Don’t discuss the weather, the baseball playoffs, or your mother’s petunias: chit chat is expensive. Even though she’s holding your future in her hands, and there’s a natural inclination to talk to your attorney as a friend, socializing can become expensive. Allow a brief time to reconnect either in person or over the phone, then get on with business. By the same token, if you have a gabby attorney, learn how to gently but firmly bring her back to the business at hand.
Although you may find a genuinely sympathetic attorney, don’t use him as a counselor. Go to a licensed therapist. An experienced mental health professional will be more effective, will cost less per hour, and will help you deal with the emotional peaks and pits that continually throw you off balance. In addition to that, you’ll have developed a relationship with a therapist who can guide you through the rocky recovery period after the divorce is granted.
Don’t ask for special paperwork. Whenever possible, run your own copies, take notes when you talk to your attorney on the phone (so you don’t have to call him later to double-check on the conversation), and look up any phone numbers and addresses he may need in working up your case.
Don’t complain about your soon-to-be-ex unless it directly applies to the current procedure. This is so very tempting during divorce (and subsequent custody and/or maintenance hearings)! You feel compelled to point out how moronic and venal your soon-to-be-ex is, and by implication, how much better a human being you are. Resist the urge. It’s both pointless and expensive.
If you invite your attorney to lunch (or vice-versa), find out first if it will be “on the clock.” There may be times when a luncheon meeting is most convenient for both of you — just be sure you know the ground rules going in. If you’ll be discussing business, have a pen and paper with you so the lunchtime information doesn’t disappear with the last cup of coffee. Be especially vigilant about idle chatter if you’re paying attorney’s fees for the privilege.
Ask for specific ways you can save on lawyer hours, such as doing your own research, filling out forms, or mailing notices. You just might be able to shave a few hundred dollars off the final tab by doing some of the routine clerical work yourself. In a long, drawn-out divorce, ask the lawyer periodically if there are any other aspects you can take care of yourself to save money.
Consider hiring a skilled mediator to help you and your spouse arrive at mutually agreeable solutions to your financial and custody disagreements. Mediators are specifically trained to help you resolve your problems together, and the cost will probably be less that you’d pay for the opposing attorneys to argue with each other. (You’ll still need to retain your own lawyer to check any agreement before you sign it, however.) Mediators also allow you to employ cooperation and compromise in arriving at a settlement agreement, which leaves far less emotional scarring than the adversarial attorney-to-attorney method.
Do your own Discovery. Discovery is basically pretrial disclosure of pertinent facts and documents, including financial figures, by one or both parties in a divorce or other legal process. It can involve a fair amount of sleuthing time, so you’ll be money ahead if you ferret out the hard-to-find information (like hidden assets), rather than relying on your attorney to do it all.
One last word about maintaining control of your legal expenses: request itemized monthly bills from your attorney. Knowing just how your legal dollars are being spent can be the most effective aid in helping you keep them to a reasonable minimum!
Linda C. Senn is author of Your Pocket Divorce Guide and co-author with Mary Stuart, M.A. of The Divorce Recovery Journal.