The most important divorce questions you need to ask yourself if you want to get through your divorce reasonably well are probably NOT what you think they are.
The most important divorce questions are NOT:
- “Am I doing the right thing?”
- “Can I (and do I want to try to) save my marriage?”
- “What’s going to happen to my kids?”
- “How much is this going to cost?”
- “Where can I find a divorce lawyer I can trust?”
- “What kind of financial position am I going to be in once this is over?”
- “What if this turns ugly?”
- “Am I going to end up spending rest of my life alone?”
All of those are important questions. They’re all well worth asking yourself as you go from thinking about divorce to deciding to divorce to actually going through a divorce.
Yet they’re still not the MOST important divorce questions you can (and should!) ask.
Not even close.
Why Asking the Right Questions Matters
Before we explore what the most important divorce questions are, it’s important to understand why asking the right questions matters.
The answer is simple. The questions you ask have enormous power. They determine the answers you find.
If you ask lousy questions, you’ll get lousy answers.
So if you ask questions like, “Why me?” your brain will come up with answers … but you probably won’t like them. Asking “why me” requires your brain to think of all the possible reasons why you suck, or life sucks, or everything sucks. Those kinds of answers leave you feeling like a hopeless, helpless victim.
Asking “Why did my spouse … lie, cheat, leave me, or do whatever it is that you wish s/he didn’t do?” is similarly unproductive. You will NEVER get an answer to that kind of question that is empowering, uplifting, or even true.
Here’s the deal. There’s probably no way for you to even know the real answer to questions like that. The only one who knows the answer (maybe!) is your spouse. And there’s a decent chance your spouse will either never tell you the answer or won’t tell you the truth.
The bottom line is that your brain is like a supercomputer that’s designed to answer whatever questions are posed to it – but ONLY those questions. So in order to get answers that are actually HELPFUL you’ve got to ask the right questions.
The 3 Most Important Divorce Questions
The most important questions you can ask when you’re facing a divorce are those that move you forward, rather than those that keep you stuck. They’re questions that are empowering, not questions that will keep you wallowing in self-pity.
In short, you want to ask questions that will help you focus on getting through your divorce as effectively, amicably and painlessly as possible. (… not that getting through a divorce will ever be painless!)
With that in mind, the 3 divorce questions that will help you get through your divorce well are:
- What Do You Want?
- How Are You Going to Get it?
- Who Do You Have to Be or Become to Make that Happen?
1. What Do You Want?
It seems so simple. What do you want?
Yet, when your head is spinning and you’re an emotional wreck, figuring out what you want for breakfast can be an overwhelming task. Deciding what you want in your divorce can be completely beyond your current capacity.
All you feel is numb. All you can think about is your pain.
(That’s true, by the way, regardless of whether you’re the person who decided to divorce, or the one whose spouse decided to divorce. The only difference is that the person who made the decision usually started thinking about divorce long before their spouse had a clue. Consequently, they’re farther ahead in their emotional processing than their spouse.)
Whether getting a divorce was your idea or not though, you can’t think about what you want until you’ve started to deal with how you feel. First you process your emotions. THEN you can start to think about your future.
Yet, even after you’ve done that, identifying your most important divorce goals can be tricky. That’s because most of us are conditioned to think about what we DON’T want.
Identifying what we DO want is infinitely harder.
It’s also the key to actually getting what you want.
How to Identify What You Want in a Divorce
To identify what you want, try asking yourself which of the following is most important for you:
- Being amicable and maintaining a civilized relationship with your spouse
- Getting spousal support for yourself
- GGetting a certain amount of support per month
- Limiting the spousal support you pay your ex (either the amount you pay or the amount of time you pay it)
- Getting 50/50 time with your kids?
- Getting the right to make major decisions for your kids (either jointly or alone)
- Maintaining a relationship with your kids
- Keeping a decent co-parenting relationship with your STBX
- Trying to make sure your kids maintain a decent relationship with your STBX
- Getting enough of the retirement assets to make sure you’re secure as you age
- Getting 50% (or more than 50%) of the marital/community property assets
- Making sure you keep your separate/non-community property assets
- Keeping the house
- Maintaining your business
- Getting divorced by a certain date
- Not incurring legal fees the size of the national debt
- Your freedom (i.e. you just want to be divorced!)
- These are just some of the things you might want to get in your divorce. Your own personality and situation will determine exactly what you want.
Just remember, it doesn’t matter what you want. What matters is that you know what you want.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: It also helps to reality-test your goals before you get too attached to them. You may want 100% of everything. But that doesn’t mean you stand a chance of getting it.)
How Are You Going to Get What You Want?
You can have the loftiest goals in the world, but without a plan for achieving them, they’re just pipe dreams.
In order actually achieve your divorce goals need three things:
- A strategy;
- A plan; and
- A team.
The type of plan and strategy you will use depends on you, your goals, your circumstances, and (perhaps most importantly) your spouse.
For example, you may want to get an amicable divorce. You may want to mediate your divorce, or use the Collaborative Divorce Process. But if your spouse has a high conflict personality and won’t agree to do anything other than fight in court … you’re going to end up fighting in court.
Remember that the best plans and strategies are flexible.
It’s rare that a divorce will go perfectly smoothly all the time. There are always bumps in the road. You will always be hit with something you didn’t anticipate.
For example, you may have had a particular financial goal in your head. Perhaps your goal was not to pay support, or to only pay “x” amount of support for “x” years. Everything looked good on paper. Your goal was realistic.
But then your spouse lost his/her job.
Suddenly the support part of your case changed completely. Now you have to re-think your entire strategy and plan. That may entail paying more support now, but paying it for a shorter period of time. Or maybe you end up delaying your divorce until your spouse gets a new job.
The bottom line is that flexibility is often the key to success. If you want to achieve your goal, and circumstances change, you’re probably going to have to adjust your strategy to accommodate the change.
Finally, the strategy and plan you create also depends on the team you put in place.
Who’s on Your Divorce Team?
While not every divorcing person needs a gigantic divorce team, most people need some kind of team. Your team may, include:
- A divorce lawyer
- A divorce coach
- A financial advisor
- A therapist
- A realtor
- A mortgage professional
- A QDRO expert
- A child specialist/therapist
No matter who is ultimately on your divorce team, including them in the planning stage of your divorce is going to be critical to putting together a plan that works.
For example, you might want to keep the house in your divorce. But if you’ve been the stay-at-home spouse for years, and you have no independent source of income, you may not be able to get a mortgage right away.
BUT if you work with a certified divorce lending professional s/he may be able to help you set up your finances in a way that will enable you to get a loan. (Or, it may enable you to get a loan sooner than you would have otherwise been able to do.)
Who Do You Have to BE (or Become) in Order to Get What You Want?
This is the question almost no one asks themselves as they're going through a divorce. But here's the truth.
Divorce changes you.
Most people focus on the negative ways that divorce changes you. They focus on the money they will lose in their divorce. They lament that they will get to spend less time with their kids. They focus on their emotional pain and start to become bitter and jaded.
But divorce can have a positive impact as well.
Divorce often acts as a mirror that reflects how you’ve been showing up in your marriage. (Or, at least, it will do that if you’re brave enough to look into the mirror!)
If you use your divorce to examine YOUR OWN behavior, and the role that your behavior played in the demise of your marriage, you can learn valuable lessons that will help you create better relationships in the future.
For example, maybe you neglected your marriage and focused way too much on your work. Maybe you neglected your kids and now find yourself having to step up your game as a parent if you want to have a relationship with them. Or maybe you never took the time to learn how to resolve conflicts with your spouse. When you had a disagreement, you just avoided talking about it because it was easier that way.
In all those examples and more, your divorce can be a catalyst for self-improvement. You can use it to learn better communication and conflict-resolution skills. You can work on your own shortcomings and become a better version of yourself. Or your divorce can give you a reason to take control of your personal finances and become more financially savvy.
In doing any or all of those things you will learn new skills, try new things, and equip yourself with the tools you need to achieve your divorce goals. You will also grow.
The Power of Asking the Right Questions
There is power in asking the right questions.
When you ask yourself a question, your brain immediately focuses on getting an answer.
Asking disempowering questions gets you answers that will leave you feeling like a victim. Questions like:
- Why is this happening to me?
- Why doesn’t my spouse love me anymore?
- What’s going to happen to me now?
… are NOT helpful! They don’t have good answers. Asking them will only keep you dancing in your head with a parade of horrible possibilities.
Not only will those questions NOT solve your problems, they’ll keep you feeling like garbage.
Asking the RIGHT questions, on the other hand, will focus you on getting what you want and feeling empowered. Questions like:
- What do I really want in my divorce?
- What’s my plan for getting it?
- Who do I need right now to help me achieve what I want?
- How can I learn and grow from this experience so that I can not only achieve my goals, but become better, stronger, and more empowered moving forward?
… are VERY helpful!
So now that you know the most important questions in divorce, only one question remains.
What will you ask yourself in your divorce to help you get what you want and become the best version of yourself?
This was originally posted on March 22, 2016 and updated on Nov. 1, 2023.