There are some big decisions to make when it comes to making a parenting plan, dealing with the family home, working out child support and alimony, and figuring out how to handle assets and debts. Somehow you and your spouse need to find a way to work out solutions for all these issues. But, the person you need to talk with may also be the last person you want to talk to right now.
So, how do you work out whether you can handle this yourselves or if you need help?
You know these are important issues. You know you need to be smart about your decisions, but will bitterness between the two of you get in the way? You may worry that conversations will turn into arguments, and nothing will be decided. You may worry that the two of you won’t agree on anything, in which case why bother.
This is a deciding moment for you.
Do you try to work with your spouse, or do you involve an attorney who can advise, assist and even speak for you? Friends and family may urge you to “get a lawyer right away.” They don’t want you to be taken advantage of, or they want to be sure you get what you deserve. And, there are good reasons for talking with an attorney. Knowing the law and understanding what you can expect will help you determine what you want from the divorce. Having this knowledge can give you confidence and help focus on the decisions to be made. However, there are still choices as to how you talk about the issues that affect you both. Do you work out the solutions yourselves or use a mediator or ask an attorney to speak for you?
You can find more information on when and how to use professionals to assist in your divorce in our book, Divorce and Separation: A Practical Guide to Making Smart Decisions (http://www.divorcebookflorida.com)
Many people, even those in very intense situations, chose to work things out with their spouse. And, if you want to consider this approach, we suggest you follow these steps:
1. Be prepared. Gather all the information you might need; whether that’s financial or regarding the children. You can’t make good decisions without complete and accurate information.
2. Meet in a place where you will both be at ease. You don’t want the children around. There shouldn’t be any distractions.
3. Set a time limit. An hour is usually a good limit for a discussion. If you spend more time, there is a good chance the conversation could drift away from the issues and into topics such as who is to blame for the divorce. You want to stay on task, focused on the issues at hand.
4. If the discussion gets heated and seems it could spiral out of control, use SALT to see if you can bring the discussion back to the important decisions you and your spouse need to make.
SALT is a 4-step process:
Stop — Do either of us need to cool down? Take a break—might be as little as 5 minutes, or a couple of days. Step away from the table. Don’t do this in anger. State that things are getting out of hand, and you need a break. But, commit to returning to the table.
Ask — Use questions to understand the other person’s point of view—and in particular, their reasons. “What is happening?” “What’s wrong?” “What should we do?” Your spouse should do the same for you.
Listen — Don’t interrupt. Don’t be planning how you’ll respond. Just listen attentively.
Talk — Restart the problem-solving discussion. Use what you’ve learned from one another and see if you can look at the problem in a fresh way. Try to think of alternatives to what you want and what your spouse wants.