Chapter 5

Coping With Stress During the Divorce Process

It may have been a few years ago, or it may have been many years ago. When you said, “I do,” you meant it. Like most people getting married, you planned to be a happily married couple for life.

But things happen. Life brings change. People change. Whatever the circumstances, you now find yourself considering divorce. The emotions of divorce run from one extreme to another as you journey through the process. You may feel relief and an eagerness to move on with your life. On the other hand, you may feel emotions that are quite painful: anger, fear, sorrow, depression, embarrassment, and anxiety. Many people going through divorce feel a deep sense of loss or failure. It is important to find support for coping with all these strong emotions. Especially if you have children, you have to find a way to carry on with your life and obligations.

Because going through a divorce is almost always an exceptionally emotional time, having a clear understanding of the divorce process and what to expect will help you make better decisions.

5.1 The Thought of Going to a Lawyer’s Office to Talk About Divorce Is More Than I Can Bear. I Canceled the First Appointment I Made Because I Just Couldn’t Do It. What Should I Do?

Many people going through a divorce are dealing with lawyers for the first time and feel anxious about the experience. Ask a trusted friend or family member to go with you. He or she can support you by writing down your questions in advance, by taking notes for you during the meeting, and by helping you to remember what the lawyer said after the meeting is concluded. It is likely that you will feel relieved just to be better informed and protected.

5.2 There Is Some Information About My Marriage That I Think My Attorney Needs, but I’m Too Embarrassed to Discuss It. Must I Tell the Attorney?

Your attorney has an ethical duty to maintain confidentiality. Attorneys who practice divorce law are accustomed to hearing intimate information about families. Although it is deeply personal to you, it is unlikely that anything you tell your lawyer will be a shock to him or her. It may feel uncomfortable initially, but it is important that your attorney have complete information so that your interests can be fully protected.

5.3 I’m Unsure About How to Tell Our Children About the Divorce, and I’m Worried I’ll Say the Wrong Thing. What’s the Best Way?

How you talk to your children about the divorce will depend upon their ages and development. Changes in your children’s everyday lives, such as a change of residence or one parent leaving the home, are very important to them and will have to be discussed. Children, especially younger children, should be shielded from information about legal proceedings and meetings with lawyers.

Simpler answers are best for young children. Avoid giving them more information than they need. Use the adults in your life—not your children—as a source of support to meet your own emotional needs.

Avoid being negative with your children towards their other parent. Recognize that though your marriage is ending, your children need, for their emotional health, to continue to have the best possible relationship with both of their parents. Don’t try to undercut your children’s relationship with the other parent, no matter how bad your own relationship is with your spouse.

After the initial discussion, keep the door open to further talks by creating opportunities for your children to talk about the divorce. Use these times to acknowledge their feelings and offer support. Always assure them that the divorce is not their fault and that they are still loved by both you and your spouse, regardless of the divorce.

5.4 My Youngest Child Seems Very Depressed About the Divorce, the Middle One Is Angry, and My Teenager Is Skipping School. How Can I Cope?

A child’s reaction to divorce will vary depending upon his or her age and other factors. Some may cry and beg for a reconciliation, and others may behave inappropriately. Reducing conflict with your spouse, being a consistent and nurturing parent, and making sure both of you remain involved are all actions that can support your children regardless of how they are reacting to the divorce.

Support groups for children whose parents are divorcing are also available through some schools and religious communities. A school counselor may be able to provide some support. If more help is needed, consider hiring a therapist experienced in working with children.

Research shows that an important factor in predicting a child’s response to a divorce is the level of conflict between the parents. For your children’s sake, you should do everything you can to minimize your conflict with the other parent.

5.5 I am So Frustrated by My Spouse’s “Disneyland Parent” Behavior. Is There Anything I Can Do to Stop This?

Feelings of guilt, competition, or remorse sometimes lead a parent to fill parenting time with trips to the toy store and special activities. These feelings can also result in too little discipline expected of the child.

Shift your focus from the other parent’s behavior to your own, and do your best to be an outstanding parent during your time with the child. This includes keeping a routine for your child for family meals, bedtime, chores, and homework. Encourage family activities as well as individual time with each child.

During the time when a child’s life is changing, providing a consistent and stable routine in your home can ease his or her anxiety and provide comfort.

5.6 Between Requests for Information From My Spouse’s Lawyer and My Own Lawyer, I am Totally Overwhelmed. How Do I Manage Gathering All of This Detailed Information by the Deadlines Imposed?

First, simply get started. Often the thought of a task is worse than the job itself.

Second, break it down into smaller tasks. Perhaps one evening you gather your tax returns and on the weekend you work on your monthly living expenses.

Third, seek support. Family members and friends are often willing to help in times of need.

Finally, communicate with your lawyer. Your attorney may be able to make your job easier by giving you suggestions or help. It may be that essential information can be provided now and the details submitted later.

5.7 I am So Depressed About My Divorce That I’m Having Difficulty Getting Out of Bed in the Morning to Care for My Children. What Should I Do?

Take good care of yourself: eat a good diet, exercise daily—even a walk helps—and get enough sleep. Reach out to friends and family; a support network is important during this stressful time in your life. Although feelings of sadness are common during a divorce, more serious depression means it’s time to seek professional support. Start with visiting your physician to address any physical health concerns.

Your health and your ability to care for your children are both essential. Follow through on recommendations by your doctor and mental health professional for therapy, medication, exercise, or other measures to improve your wellness and functioning.

5.8 Will Taking Prescription Medication for My Anxiety and Depression Hurt My Case?

You should do your best to take care of yourself and your children, and your case is best served by that approach. The use of medicine to treat anxiety and depression is so common that it is unlikely that a judge would hold that against you. Follow your doctor’s and your therapist’s recommendations and prescriptions carefully.

5.9 I Talk a Lot About My Divorce With Several Friends and My Sister, but It Seems That It Makes Me Even More Stressed and Angry

You need the support of family and friends while going through a divorce. Unfortunately, well-meaning family members and friends often make things worse with their frustration, anger, and bad advice. Rely on your divorce attorney for advice. Your best approach with your supporters may be to focus on shared interests and other positive things. A constant focus on the negatives of your divorce and the other party is not helpful. Seek positive supporters, and be mindful that you and your children benefit if you stay focused on working through issues and moving forward in a positive and constructive manner.

5.10 I’m the One Who Filed for Divorce, but I Still Have Loving Feelings Toward My Spouse and Feel Sad About Divorcing. Does This Mean I Should Dismiss My Divorce?

Strong feelings of caring about your spouse often persist after a divorce is filed. Whether or not to proceed with a divorce is a deeply personal decision, so only you can decide this. Here are several questions to consider:

  • Have you and your spouse participated in marriage counseling?
  • Has your spouse refused to seek treatment for an addiction?
  • Are you worried about the safety of you or your children if you remain in the marriage?
  • Is your spouse involved in another relationship?
  • Is your spouse committed to the marriage?
  • Is there any reasonable prospect that the marital problems that led you to file for divorce can be overcome?

One option to consider is putting the divorce process on hold for so long as you are in doubt.

5.11 Will My Lawyer Charge Me for the Time I Spend Talking About My Feelings About My Spouse and My Divorce?

Yes. It would be difficult to go through a divorce without any discussion with your lawyer about your feelings associated with the divorce. Lawyers vary in their capacity to provide counseling. Some divorce lawyers are helpful, while others prefer to stay more narrowly focused on the legal issues. But realize that counselors and therapists typically charge at a lower hourly rate than your lawyer.

5.12 My Lawyer Doesn’t Seem to Realize How Difficult My Divorce Is for Me. How Can I Get Him to Understand?

Some lawyers are more empathetic than others. You want a competent divorce lawyer who is also a good fit regarding your need for empathy. If you feel that your lawyer is not empathetic enough, you can discuss the issue with him, change lawyers, or focus on having your emotional needs met by a counselor and your family and friends.

5.13 I’ve Been Told Not to Speak Badly About My Spouse in Front of My Child, but I Know My Spouse Is Doing This All the Time. Why Can’t I Just Speak the Truth?

It’s harmful to your child to hear either parent being negative about the other parent. Regardless of what the other parent is doing, you should always do what is best for your child (and not just what would give you a momentary satisfaction of retaliation against the other parent). One of the worst things you can do to your child is to bring them into a war with the other parent. First, don’t fight with the other parent. Second, if you can’t find a way to reduce the conflict despite your best efforts, at least try to shield your child from the hostility, anger, conflict, and unpleasant words. Children should feel free and encouraged to love both of their parents without the need to choose sides.

5.14 I am Terrified of Having My Deposition Taken. My Spouse’s Lawyer Is Very Aggressive, and I’m Afraid I’m Going to Say Something That Will Hurt My Case. What Should I Do?

Your deposition is an opportunity for your spouse’s attorney to gather information and to assess the type of witness you would be if the case proceeds to trial. Feeling anxious about your deposition is normal.

Remember that your attorney will be seated by your side at all times to support you. You should meet with your lawyer in advance to prepare for the deposition. If you are worried about certain questions that might be asked, talk to your attorney about them in advance. Think of it as an opportunity to move your case closer to completion, and enlist your lawyer’s support in being well prepared.

5.15 I am Still So Angry at My Spouse. How Can I Be Expected to Sit In the Same Room During a Settlement Conference?

If you are still really angry at your spouse, it may be beneficial to postpone the conference for a time. You might also consider counseling to help you cope with your feelings of anger.

Another option might be “shuttle” negotiations. With this method, you and your attorney remain in one room while your spouse and his or her attorney are in another. Settlement offers are then relayed between the attorneys throughout the negotiation process. By shifting your focus from your angry feelings to your goal of a settlement, it may be easier to handle the process.

5.16 I’m Afraid I Can’t Make It Through Court Without Having an Emotional Breakdown. How Do I Prepare?

A divorce trial can be a highly emotional time, though typically it follows a lengthy period of separation. Some of these ideas may help you through the process:

  • Meet with your lawyer, usually multiple times, in advance of your court date to prepare for trial.
  • Ask your lawyer whether there are any documents you should review in preparation for court, such as your deposition or trial exhibits.
  • Get directions, visit the courtroom in advance, and maybe even observe another proceeding.
  • Consider having a support person with you in court for your trial. Avoid alcohol, eat a good diet, exercise, and have plenty of rest during the period of time leading up to the court date. Each of these will help you to prepare for the emotions of the day.
  • Plan what you intend to wear in advance. Small advance preparations may lower your stress.
  • Visualize the experience going well. Picture yourself sitting in the witness chair, giving clear, confident, and truthful answers to questions.
  • Arrive early at the courthouse, and make sure you have a plan for parking your car if you are not familiar with the area.
  • Take slow, deep breaths. Breathing deeply will steady your voice, calm your nerves, and improve your focus.
  • Realize that your attorney will be your advocate and support throughout the proceedings.

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