The minute the word “divorce” enters your consciousness, your brain gets flooded with questions you never thought you were going to need to ask: “What do I do?” “Where will I live?” “What will happen to the kids?” “How do I find a lawyer?” All of those are important questions. But they are not the most important questions in divorce.
Why Asking the Right Questions Matters
While focusing on the questions that are racing through your head when your marriage is lying in a shambles at your feet might not strike you as the most productive use of your time, the truth is that the questions you ask have enormous power. Why? Because when you ask a question, your mind focuses on finding the answer. And it doesn’t just look for any answer. It looks for the answer to the question you asked.
If you ask a lousy question, you get a lousy answer. Nowhere is that more true than when you find yourself facing divorce.
If you focus on “why me?” you will find yourself wallowing in a giant cesspool of self-pity that will do nothing but drag you down.
If you ask “why did my spouse … (lie, cheat, leave me, or do whatever it is that you wish s/he didn’t do)?” you will drive yourself crazy by focusing your brain on questions which have no good answer.
The only one who knows why your spouse did or did not do anything is your spouse. While you could ask your spouse to explain him/herself: a) your spouse probably won’t answer you; b) even if your spouse does answer you, there is no guarantee that the answer s/he gives you is true; and c) knowing the answer doesn’t change the fact that your marriage is now lying in a broken heap at your feet.
If asking “Why?” or “Why me” are not the questions you want to be asking yourself when you are facing divorce, what are better questions?
The 3 Most Important Questions in Divorce
The most important questions you can ask when you are facing divorce are those that move you forward, rather than those that keep you stuck looking in the rear view mirror and wondering what just hit you. You want to ask questions that help you focus , not just on the pain you are going through at the moment, but on the life that you want to create for yourself once this misery is behind you. (And, yes, there will be life after your divorce.)
So what are the 3 most important questions in divorce?
- What Do You Want?
- How Are You Going to Get it?
- Who Is Going to Help You Get it?
Simple, right? These questions are so simple, in fact, that most people take them for granted. That is why these questions, as basic they are, so often get overlooked.
Most people are so caught up in the trauma and drama of divorce that they never force themselves to figure out what they want for their life once their divorce is over.
Because they don’t know what they want, they don’t make a plan for how to get it.
They also think (quite mistakenly) that they can either get through their divorce completely on their own, or that the only person they need to help them get through their divorce is a lawyer.
Instead of focusing on the important questions that will actually propel them through their divorce and prepare them to create a new life, many people tend to spin in circles trying to answer all of the tactical questions that are bombarding them each day.
It’s not that the questions like “Where will I live?,” “How will I pay my bills?,” and “When will I see my kids?” are not important. They are. But if you never zoom out and look at the bigger picture, at the end of your divorce you may find that you are financially devastated, emotionally spent, and personally wrecked.
By not asking the right questions when you are going through your divorce, you set yourself up for being in the wrong place once your divorce is over. Without intending to do so, you end up spending more money, wasting more time, and losing the things that mattered to you the most.
Focusing on the most important questions helps you prevent all of that.
What Do You Want?
If you are like most people, when your divorce begins you will find yourself in one of two camps. If you were the one who initiated the divorce, you think you know exactly what you want. You want to be divorced and you want to be free.
If you were the one whose spouse wanted the divorce, you also probably think you know what you want – which is usually to find a way to save your marriage. Once you start to realize that that is not going to be possible, you descend into confusion and denial. For a long time, you don’t know what you want.
The problem with both of these perspectives is that they are limited. Whether all you want is to be divorced, or whether you are so emotionally devastated that you don’t know what you want, either way you are not looking past your divorce. You are like a bride who spends all of her time planning an elaborate wedding, without ever taking the time to think about what her marriage will be like once the wedding is over.
If you want to get through your divorce with the least amount of time, expense and drama possible, you have to identify what matters to you the most.
What is the single most important thing you want in your divorce? Is it spousal support? Or, maybe it is getting custody of your kids? Or, maybe you are older and your earning capacity is limited, so you know you need a bigger portion of the retirement assets so that you will be secure as you age.
When trying to identify the things that are most important to you, it helps to think about the kind of life you want to create for yourself and your kids after your divorce is over. What will it take to create that life? Will it take money? Will it take time? Will you need to go back to school for awhile? Will you need to spend more time with your kids?
If you figure out what kind of a life you want after your divorce, you will know what is most important to you in your divorce.
How Are You Going to Get What You Want?
You can have the loftiest goals in the world, but without any plan to achieve those goals they are no more than just a pipe dream. If you want to actually achieve your goals you need two things: a plan and a strategy.
The type of plan and strategy you will use to start working toward your goal depends upon your goal. What’s more, there is usually more than one way to achieve any goal.
If your goal is to be financially secure after your divorce (and that goal is reasonably attainable given your current financial situation) you could try to achieve it by fighting in court to get as much money as you possibly can from your spouse. Or, you could try to achieve that goal by being reasonable and negotiating in a way that will give your spouse something that s/he wants as well.
Both approaches have a chance at succeeding, and a chance at failing miserably. For example, if fighting in court costs you tens (or hundreds!) of thousands of dollars, even if you “win” you may end up with less money in your pocket than you would have done by negotiating even a “bad” settlement.
To identify the best plan and strategy, you need to look at all of the facts and circumstances you are facing. You have to understand your needs, and your spouse’s needs. You have to know what your spouse will want, and whether your spouse is likely to be reasonable, or not. You have to know what is important to you, and what you are willing to give up.
Finally, you have to be willing to enlist the help you need to implement your plan, and make achieving your goals a realistic possibility.
Who Are You Going To Get to Help You Achieve Your Goals?
No one – especially someone going through the emotional and financial upheaval of divorce – is an island. No one, not even a divorce attorney, can handle all of their divorce issues themselves.
Many people today want to save money by doing their own divorce without legal help. That’s understandable. With so much information being available on the internet, and divorce lawyers being so expensive, it is easy to believe that you will be perfectly fine doing a DIY divorce.
But DIY divorces can be dangerous.
Unless you have been married for a very short time, have no kids, no real estate, no family business, and you are not splitting any retirement accounts, going the DIY route can be a disaster.
It can leave you fighting with your spouse for years after your divorce when you find out that assets you intended to divide can not be divided. You may both be surprised when no one wants to buy the house you intended to sell, and now the roof leaks and you never talked about who would pay for it.
Or, maybe you forgot to talk about who would get the kids on Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve, or any one of the dozens of other holidays that come along every year. Now, you find yourself locked in battle with your ex over every holiday schedule.
Dealing with these kinds of problems after you are already divorced will likely cost you substantially more time, money, and energy, than what you would have spent by getting some quality legal advice about your divorce from the beginning.
But a divorce lawyer is only one person you will need when you are going through a divorce. You also need a therapist, or a divorce coach.
The biggest part of divorce is the emotional trauma that accompanies it. While it is wonderful to think that you can be an emotional rock in even the most difficult emotional times, the truth is, you are only human! No one gets through a divorce without some emotional drama. Having a therapist on your divorce team can mean the difference between riding an emotional roller coaster that keeps you continually throwing up over the rails, and actually dealing with your emotions so that you can heal.
Finally, depending on your circumstances, you might also benefit from some financial help. You may need to consult with an accountant about the tax implications of your divorce. Or you may need to talk to a divorce financial planner about dividing your assets, or setting an appropriate amount of support.
Asking Better Questions
Asking the right questions while you are going through a divorce can keep you focused on getting through the process in the way that will help you identify and achieve your goals. It will save you money, time, and a lot of emotional angst.
Now that you know the most important questions in divorce, only one question remains: What questions will you be asking now in your divorce?
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