Divorce Day?

Posted By Hollingsworth & Zivitz Attorneys at Law || 12-Jan-2018

One of the first articles that popped-up on my newsfeed this week was entitled (and I’m paraphrasing), “Today is Divorce Day.” Although it was an article from the U.K., the title compelled me to read further. Out of curiosity, I quickly searched to see if others (in the U.S.) have made the same association and dubbed Monday, January 8, 2018, “Divorce Day.” I ultimately determined this was not “real news” (at least not from my perspective) behind the article’s initial catchy headline. I did find numerous articles quoting U.S. divorce attorneys and abroad regarding the influx of divorce filings during month of January. Some attorneys specifically referred to “D-Day” as being the first Monday of each calendar year, while other attorneys pointed to “D-Day” as being the first Monday after children return to school each calendar year or, more generally, referring to the entire month of January as “Divorce Month.” As I browsed several articles, the overriding theme was the same…the month of January is, annually, a very busy time for divorce lawyers. While I personally don’t believe this theme constitutes “real news,” the busthat it is certainly consistent with what we experience each year at our family law firm, Hollingsworth & Zivitz, PC.

What is it about a fresh new calendar year that elicits extra incentive for us to make positive life changes? Various articles report that between 40%-45% of Americans make new year’s resolutions. I honestly expected that percentage to be much higher; regardless, it is hard to deny that there is something about the freshness of a new year that seems to provide additional inspiration and commitment for life-change. People going through a divorce—like everyone else—want to make positive changes to “better” themselves in some way and/or to find ways to live happier and healthier lives. In the midst of a divorce or when anticipating divorce, however, these resolutions may seem a little more REAL…more urgent…more like, “musts” than “shoulds.”

Many unhappy spouses reportedly decide to “stick it out” through the holidays, so that they can experience one final “normal” Christmas with their children as an “intact family unit.” I suppose I understand that reasoning, but holidays are even stressful for happy couples/families! Even the most solid relationships are often tested with additional stresses and frustrations brought on by the holidays. Kids are out of school and get cabin fever; parents stress while finding work-related childcare; normal-life tasks and responsibilities (such as, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc.) are at least doubled when shopping for and wrapping gifts, assembling toys, sending holiday cards, etc.; attending countless holiday programs at school, church events, extra-curricular activities, family get-togethers, work-related and person holiday parties being added into an already-hectic family calendar; and significant travel time, sometimes in poor winter weather conditions. In addition to the anxiety associated with those time constraints, holidays are a time for excessive financial strains on the family. All of these will take a toll—even on happily married couples—much less those who are on the verge of ending their marriages. As a result, the month of January becomes the “light at the end of the tunnel,” so to speak, and getting divorced become many people’s new year’s resolution.

The new year’s resolution tradition has always fascinated me, mostly, I think, because we seemingly need artificial incentives (such as a new calendar year) to motivate us to take care of ourselves, to do what we need to do, and to make the next right decision for ourselves. I’m not judging those who make new year’s resolutions…not at all! In fact, I often make them, too (and ultimately break them)! I find it silly, though, that we tend to make the beginning of a new calendar year into a special tradition, seemingly, for the primary purpose of creating a “clean slate” for ourselves. I mean, what is so special about JANUARY 1st each year that makes us believe it’s the absolute best time for a fresh start—the crucial deadline and window of opportunity for positive changes in our lives?

My point is simple: We should commit to being kind to ourselves (and to others) every day of the year—whether that day is January 1st (“Divorce Day” or “Divorce Month”) or any other random day during the months of June, September…or even on New Year’s Eve. We should all strive to be the best versions of ourselves every day, shouldn’t we? If, after just a couple of weeks into the new year calendar year you have already “fallen off the proverbial new year’s resolution wagon,” it’s ok (…and, if you have, you’re definitely not alone!)! Don’t beat yourself up about it. On the contrary, understand that you don’t need to wait until January 1st of the following year (nor get through the next holiday, the children’s next birthday, etc.) to make positive life changes! When you decide you want to better yourself…whether it’s to lose a few pounds, to stop smoking, to end a toxic relationship, etc…JUST DO IT! Making thoughtful decisions, followed by creating a good plan of action, will set you up to succeed.

Like most things in life, once you decide what it is you want, the key is to DO SOMETHING! Get prepared…create a plan…and take action! The more prepared you ultimately are, the less pitfalls you will experience along your path. Less pitfalls along the way also increases your odds of succeeding in whatever it is you want to do. This will also position you well to reach your goals with LESS stress, LESS frustration, LESS wasted time and LESS unnecessary expense (especially if you’re getting a divorce).

For example, if losing weight is your goal, clean your pantry by removing crappy, overly sugary, processed foods that tempt you away from your goal! Schedule an appointment with a trainer (don’t just talk about scheduling it…schedule it!); join a gym; shop for healthier food; prepare your meals ahead of time; or buy yourself a new pair of tennis shoes and/or workout clothes that make you feel good about yourself and create incentive to workout. Just remember that the more action you take to set yourself up to succeed, the more likely you will SUCCEED! On the contrary, if your goal is to lose weight, but the “decision” is made from guilt/shame after a night of binge eating, no action is taken and, because you haven’t properly prepared yourself, the odds of succeeding are greatly diminished.

Failure to prepare a new fitness regimen makes us more likely to “hit the snooze button” and sleep through the scheduled morning workout. This lack of preparation also lends to caving-in to temptation and devouring a bag of chips at 9:00 p.m., because we haven’t eaten all day, we have no healthy in the house, we don’t have time (or energy) to go to the grocery store and, therefore, we can’t cook a good meal. The more prepared we are, the more we set ourselves up for success, which also means we’re far more likely to progress toward our goals. Progress keeps us accountable and on track.

While appearing to be a crazy comparison, the decision to get divorced should be approached with the same thoughtfulness and preparation as losing weight…or, for that matter, any other goal. The decision to divorce is certainly NOT one that should be taken lightly, nor should it be immediately made after a heated disagreement with your spouse. As with other important decisions, it should be made with clarity and certainty, followed by thoughtful preparation and, finally, intentional action!

First and foremost, before filing for divorce, I always urge clients to be absolutely certain that divorce is what they want. If a client has pursued all other alternatives, he/she will have zero doubt that ending his/her marriage was the correct decision. Especially at this time of the year and after an extended overload of holiday/family time, it’s easy to understand how divorce may seem like the only path to happiness. In some cases…maybe it is the only path. Google-searching divorce lawyers at 3:00 a.m., after a heated argument with your spouse, and then emailing the first few attorneys you find in effort to set-up an appointment, is most likely NOT the best strategy. I encourage you prepare yourself for the process, and a crucial part of that process involved finding the right divorce attorney. This doesn’t have to be a big, time-consuming task; however, it is important to do your homework. You should research family law firms in your area (or even expand your search beyond your local area to larger cities in your state). Try to learn what lawyers/firms are really about…what are their philosophies on the divorce process…how much experience have they had dealing with cases similar to yours…what is their approach to divorce—are they “bulldogs” or is their approach less litigious/contentious? After determining which attorney/firm appears to be a good fit for you and your situation, schedule an appointment. Finally, when attending the appointment, don’t be afraid to ask the attorney specific questions—get to know him/her—because you are interviewing the ATTORNEY to work for YOU! Remember…THIS IS YOUR LIFE!

Even making that first call or scheduling that first appointment can be incredibly intimidating. However, finding the right divorce attorney for you, your personality, your specific needs, and the circumstances of your situation, is absolutely imperative. Making the right choice about the lawyer or firm that is going to walk you through the process can save you a tremendous amount of time, stress and money! That attorney may or may not be the one who has a convenient office location on way home from work or is the first one to have scheduling availability. Do your homework. Ask questions. Be prepared.

SIDE NOTE: If you are in the midst of divorce or if either you or your spouse is considering divorce, another positive step would be to seek counsel of a qualified therapist to talk through the emotional aspects of divorce—not just for you, but for your spouse, and for your children (if you have them). Maybe it makes sense to ask your spouse to participate in counseling with you…maybe not…but seeking help and guidance can’t hurt. It may not solve all of your problems and you may not get the answers you want to hear, but it can only help you long-term. During that process, you may discover reasons to work on your marriage or, perhaps, you will find a better way to deal with the issues you will face during the divorce process. A good counselor can help you better cope with feelings of anger and/or resentment you may feel toward your spouse, can help you work through feelings of guilt, and can ease the level of tension and frustration you experience by providing a safe place to “vent.” Whatever benefits you experience, counseling is often a valuable strategy as you enter into (or consider entering into) divorce.

The most important thing I hope you take from this is…if getting a divorce is something you are experiencing or anticipating during this new year, it is imperative that you make a thoughtful game plan before taking action. Maybe you’ll determine that divorce isn’t the answer…or maybe you will decide that divorce is inevitable. Either way, chances are, you will feel better about yourself. You will be more confident in your decision and will be far better prepared for what lies ahead if you make thoughtful decisions and are intentional with your actions (versus making a knee-jerk reaction out of desperation to feel temporary relief). What you should not do is allow another calendar year to pass, while feeling miserable, and do nothing to create positive life-changes for yourself! Don’t let another year pass you by. Life is too short and far too precious to just “exist.” If you are just surviving life, you are not doing any favors to yourself, your spouse, your children, your job, your life, or anyone in your life. When we live our best lives, we are happier and healthier, and we have more to give to this world! At the end of the day….what we GIVE is what matters!

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2018!

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