- Legal. Divorce is a lawsuit, even though we don’t think of it that way. You need legal advice, and the only person qualified to give it is an attorney. (For guidance on how to hire the right attorney see our prior show.) Do not rely on advice from friends, family, your girlfriend, or your neighbor who recently went through a divorce. Significant legal rights and obligations are at stake. See a qualified attorney to ask about the legal ramifications of separation and divorce. Avoid lawyers who provide quick free consultations, and look for one who will charge you for an hour or two to provide in-depth, reliable advice that you can count on to create a separation strategy.
- Practical. Practical matters, including financial and parenting decisions, are those things that impact the realities of your day-to-day life, like whether one partner will move out, what you will tell the children, how you will handle finances, and the goals for as well as duration for your separation. There are very few practical resources to help deal with these practical considerations, however the model created by therapist and author Bob Buchicchio, which can be found at separationadvice.net and his book Taking Space is uniquely and effectively designed to help people use the conflict in their relationship as an opportunity to move into the future that they want. For parents, thoughtful supportive assistance can be found at thenewfamily.com and on the Positive Co-Parenting after Divorce Facebook page both run by Brandie Weikle.
- Emotional. The emotional aspect of the decision to separate certainly feels like the biggest. Sorting through distress, sadness, fear, grief, and loneliness surrounding the time of separation is crucial to help you manage the other two aspects – legal and practical – of separation. Engaging a highly qualified therapist or a divorce coach is key. Look for a professional specializing in divorce matters – and it’s usually best to stay away from a therapist who is providing couples therapy to you and your spouse. There are some wonderful resources that are free and readily available as well. These include getting-unmarried.com, untangletheknot.com, and lessonsfromtheendofamarriage.com. Understand that your lawyer is not an experienced therapist – and does cost a lot more! Rather than processing feelings with your lawyer, look instead for resources that are designed only to help you manage these complex and sometimes overwhelming emotional issues.
Deciding whether to separate or divorce is a big question. Before you do anything else, break it down into three distinct components: legal, practical and emotional. Then, make a plan to ensure that you have the resources you need to make a decision that is legally, practically, and emotionally the right one for you and your family.