Strategy Smarts: 6 Do's and Dont's Every Woman Should Know Before Filing for Divorce

Excerpted from The Smart Divorce: A Practical Guide to the 200 Things You Must Know

1. Do figure out whom you can trust before you go talking to friends and soon-to-be former relatives. You may be surprised to see who will testify against you later.

You are guaranteed to learn who your friends are when you go through a divorce. You may find out at the start, or you may learn along the way. The problem is that sometimes you don't find out until you're deep into the process, and by then you may have confided in exactly the wrong person. As certain as you are that this will never happen to you, the odds are that it will happen in one out of two cases.

2. Do take notes when you have meetings with your lawyer and jot down questions and ideas as they come to you.

You think you'll remember, but you won't. "What did my lawyer say?" you'll ask yourself. "Did my lawyer say I should or shouldn't tell my spouse? I just can't remember." Don't rely on your memory. Write it down. Divorce increases stress, and stress affects your ability to remember. Take notes. It's easier and less expensive to take notes than to call your lawyer and ask the same question again. Take the practical, economical approach and write down your questions and ideas as you think of them. The more organized you are when you walk into your lawyer's office, the less time you will spend there and the less time you will be billed for. If you think you can remember every question and idea you have, you're wrong. This is a time when you have a lot on your mind. Jot down notes so you don't forget.

3. Do make a police report if there is abuse -- and do follow through.

Don't make excuses for your spouse. Don't say it will never happen again or that it never happened before. It shouldn't have happened once. Don't believe that it will only be worse if you report the incident. Make a police report and follow through with whatever needs to be done. In some states your spouse can't be ordered out of the house without a hearing unless there is physical abuse. Don't make it your word against your spouse's word. Get an official record of the incident, have pictures taken of the injuries and put your evidence where your spouse can't destroy it.

In a rather unusual turn of events, a husband told us that his wife had beaten him over the last few years. We asked him if he had made a police report, seen a physician or confided in any friends or coworkers. His answer was no to all questions. Based on his wife's denial of the accusations, the judge refused to order his wife out of the house. It may be humiliating, it may be the toughest thing you ever do, but if there's abuse, report it. Nothing you do prevents your spouse from getting the help he or she needs. As difficult as it may be, "I'm sorry" is not enough. Once you let someone get away with violence of any kind, it's an open invitation to do it again.

4. Don't involve the children in conversations, arguments or decisions about them. Do not discuss the particulars of the divorce with your children, and do not use them as mediators or go-betweens.

Your divorce is between you and your spouse. Do not put your children in the middle of it. Your children should not see or hear, much less participate, in any arguments. Under no circumstances should they mediate arguments between you and your spouse, nor should you use them as a service to pass messages to your spouse. Bringing your children into the discussions and decisions will only slow their healing process and confuse them. Worse, it may lead them to anguish about their perceived responsibility for the marital breakup. The problem snowballs when children think they can make things better. And when it doesn't improve, your kids have yet another issue to wonder and worry about: Could they have done something more or different to mend the rift between their parents? Involving your children is a no-win situation.

5. Don't become abusive to yourself. Don't convince yourself that alcohol, drugs, overeating or not eating at all are going to help.

When all else fails, the most likely victim for us to beat up is ourselves. It's sad but true. Doing anything in excess is not the answer. And doing some things, even in moderation, may not be the answer, either. It's very important to take care of yourself physically. Eat sensibly, get rest and establish some kind of sensible routine. Eventually you are going to have to deal with reality. The long-term negative effects of abusing yourself during the divorce will no doubt be more detrimental than anything you experience as a result of the divorce. Make sure that you are as kind to yourself as you would be to your best friend. This is the time to do unto you.

6. Don't use the same lawyer.

It may seem an appealing and inexpensive way to handle things, but using the same lawyer as your spouse is a major mistake. One lawyer cannot equally represent conflicting interests. For example, if you say you need a high amount of monthly support and your spouse wants to pay as little as possible, how can one lawyer who is supposed to be an advocate for each of you resolve those competing interests? Each party should obtain separate counsel and get separate advice. Although the goal may be to work things out, it can't be done without first understanding your options as well as the best- and worst-case scenarios. Cases can be resolved amicably with each side having separate representation. It's important that you understand your rights as well as your responsibilities in the divorce setting. It should be noted that even in mediated cases it is frequently recommended that each party has independent counsel.

In the long run, no one will save money by using one lawyer. Courts look askance at and may throw out agreements drafted by one lawyer for both parties, and then everyone has to start all over again.

The Smart Divorce: A Practical Guide to the 200 Things You Must Know. Copyright © 1999 by Susan T. Goldstein and Valerie H. Colb. Reprinted with permission from Golden Books Pub Co. All rights reserved.

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