Quicksand
(Tips on not sinking in the divorce process
[1])
by John P. McNeir J.D.

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Don’ T. Needhelp slowly trudges through the woods looking for that elusive fishing hole his partner told him was out here – the best fishing in the state!  That dream spot where the fish are always biting and the weather is always nice.  As he nears the bank of the river, he sees a big splash in the water.  Is that the big one?  He inches nearer and nearer to the riverbank.  Suddenly, his leg is unexpectedly seized from below.  He looks, but sees nothing to explain what is happening.  As he kicks with his other foot, it too is grabbed by the elusive creature.  He falls onto his back as he is pulled into the hole by the great beast.  As he descends, he continues to kick the beast, but to no avail.  It just pulls him in deeper.  He is up to his waist now.  Punching at the beast only assists it in grabbing his arms.  Only his neck is above the murky mess now and the mighty beast continues to drag him down.  As he struggles, his head slowly sinks into the quagmire.  He takes a deep breath just before going under.  He takes another breath; this time his lungs fill with sand and water.  Soon, he’ll be dead…

How can an article on divorce start with a story about quicksand?  Much like quicksand, divorce often creeps up on people, grabs them and starts pulling them under.  What they do to prepare prior to the divorce process, during the divorce process and after the divorce may often save their personal, emotional and financial lives.  Undoubtedly, it is quite possible to drown during the divorce process; but if you use preparation, knowledge and discipline, you can survive and you and your family will be better off for it.

In general, men have a tendency to live their lives as the “lone wolf,” refusing assistance, advice or counsel from friends, family or acquaintances.  This approach includes both their personal as well as their professional lives.  It often leads to disaster and the loss of family, friends, careers and financial security.

Here are some key things should you know about the divorce process:  First, do not ignore it – The law is a very temperamental beast that does not like being ignored.  More accurately, if you ignore it, it may eventually grab you, suck you under and have its way with you.  If you want to lose, put your head in the sand, ignore the Complaint, don’t come to court and continue to pretend that you don’t need to do anything.  It will make things easier for your spouse’s attorney.  It will also ensure that you will end up with many years of angst and anger toward the system.  In this situation the problem was not the system; it was the choice to ignore what was happening.  

Second, find an attorney with whom you can develop a trusting relationship.  Seek an attorney who will be honest with you about the good and bad aspects of your case. It is also important to find an attorney who will make you part of the team, not part of the problem. Their main goal should be to understand your needs and assist you in the process of seeing those needs being fulfilled. Remember that your attorney is not a magician.  He/she is simply a professional trained in assisting you through the legal process.  The lawyer can’t make things perfect.  He/she can’t change your spouse, your children, the law or the facts.  If your attorney makes grandiose promises, remember the oldest rule of them all – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

Third, take inventory of your needs and your family’s needs and show your attorney you are serious about those needs.  If you don’t know what you want or need, can you expect your attorney to understand and advocate for those needs? Take the time to have all your facts, documents and evidence in a safe location and ready for your attorney to review. Bring requested items to your attorney as if you were making a presentation at work.  It shows your attorney that you take the matter seriously, helps ensure that your funds are used more effectively, and decreases the delay that would occur if someone else had to organize your financial matters. 

Fourth, do not make decisions based on anger, revenge or frustration and don’t let these emotions control your reactions.  If you can’t see the forest for the trees, sit down, find a good book and educate yourself.  If you think you are going to “blow up,” don’t.  Many people sit in Court charged with domestic violence because they did not appropriately control their reactions to stress or anger and pushed their spouse.  Or they were in the middle of a screaming match when the police showed up.  Who wins in a he-said/she-said? No one.  If anger controls your decision-making process, you may very well regret those decisions later.

Fifth, remember that what happens during the process could follow you and your family for a long, long time.  If you have a 5 year old, how long does the result affect you?  At least until they reach age 18.  Paying an extra $250 per month in child support? That’s $39,000 extra over that 13 year period.  Some fathers say they want to be an important part of their child’s life, but then only agree to see him/her only very other weekend?  That’s about 700 days of visitation over a 13 year period – a little less than 2 years out of 13.  Sound like enough time to educate, inform and be a significant role model for your children?  Who do you think will have a bigger impact?  “Weekend Dad” or television?

Sixth, ask your attorney whether your case is appropriate for mediation, collaboration or litigation. As most people know, litigation involves taking your case to court, presenting evidence and having a Judge decide what happens with the children, the mortgage, the house, the retirement accounts, etc.  It can be very costly and time intensive.  Mediation involves the parties sitting down and trying to negotiate a settlement with the help of a neutral person.  If the parties can not reach a settlement, they may end up in litigation.  Collaborative law involves the parties and attorneys agreeing to not litigate their cases. The parties and attorneys voluntarily share information, cooperate with each other and agree to negotiate in good faith. If the parties can not reach an agreement and one or both decide to take the matter to court, the attorneys are not permitted to represent either party in the litigation process and the parties must start over with new attorneys. Each case is different and the best approach to take may depend on the facts of the case and the goals of the participants.  

Lastly, take care of yourself!  Do not isolate yourself.  Find a good counselor.  Find a good friend.  Find a good support group.  Find a good hobby.  If you call your attorney to get mental health counseling, you pay an awful lot of money for someone who isn’t trained to give you mental health counseling.  Sometimes it is good to vent with your attorney, but if it is an every day occurrence, you may need to find a professional to talk to instead.  There are numerous groups in the community that can help you sort through the many emotions that accompany the divorce experience.  Some are organized through religious groups, others are simply organizations who understand what parents or spouses are going through.  Find one that nurtures you both mentally and emotionally.  It is fine to sit around and complain with buddies once in a while, but if that is your only support group your time is being unproductive.

You have the ability to decide whether or not to be pulled down into the quicksand that divorce can often be. By choosing not to react out of anger, frustration, impatience or fear; and instead making proactive, knowledgeable and wise decisions with the help and support of others, you can determine, for a large part, how divorce affects you. It is up to you to determine whether or not to save yourself with the support of others, or to go it alone and thrash around until you sink into the quagmire…

 

John P. McNeir J.D. is a lawyer with  Haas & Parker, PA and can be reached at: 919-783-9669 or e-mail: at: johnmcneil@famlaw.org


[1] Disclaimer:  The information contained in this article is provided as a public service for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a comprehensive statement of the law or, in particular, to contain legal advice.  If you have any questions regarding any information found in this article, you should consult an attorney who can investigate the particular circumstances of your situation.  Persons receiving information found in this article should not act on this information without receiving professional legal counsel.  The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.  The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice or the formation of a lawyer / client relationship.

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