Recognizing and, moreover, admitting to a toxic or simply unfulfilling relationship isn't easy; still, it's an important step to creating positive change in your life. But, if you're married, what comes next?
About 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce, and the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher, according to the American Psychological Association. These numbers are quite high, though the divorce rate in the country does appear to be dropping. The percentage began falling in the early 1990s and has since continued to decrease. In 1992, for example, there were 4.8 divorces per 1,000 population but, by 2016, this number had dropped to 3.2.
An analysis of American Community Survey (ACS) data by Philip Cohen
, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, suggests that divorce rates are dropping because younger generations are cohabiting more before getting married, and they're getting married later while they put their educations and careers first. As such, "many of the people getting married today are more privileged than they used to be: more highly educated (both partners), and socially and economically stable, all of which bodes well for the survival of their marriages (even if it means more inequality in society)," Cohen reports.
Despite the downward trend, however, divorce nonetheless happens — and, when it does, it can be messy and expensive. (This is especially true if there are children involved.) So before you dive into divorce, there's a lot you should know, and we reached out to divorce lawyers to fill you in.
1. Know that every divorce case is unique.
"Overall, the most important thing to keep in mind before pursuing divorce is that every case is unique," says Turco Legal founder and head attorney, Damian J. Turco. "Every divorce case has a different set of facts and circumstances. No matter how many articles you read, how knowledgeable you are or how many friends and family who have gone through divorce you talk to, nothing can compare to going through the process yourself."
He says that you must prepare yourself for some stress because of that.
"Even if you and your spouse remain on amicable terms, there will be some emotionally charged moments," he explains. "The most important thing to consider is what is best for you and your family. Although you and your spouse want the best possible futures for yourselves, you should consider how the divorce will impact your children (if you have any). If you own a business or are business partners with your spouse, this could further complicate the divorce. Even something as small as posting on social media during divorce proceedings can harm your case. That’s why it is essential to find an experienced divorce attorney you can trust to give you advice and work with you through the difficult moments."
2. Know that every divorce case is going to pan out differently.
"Before getting divorced, you should understand that every case is going to be different," says Randolph Rice, an attorney. "The couples’ attitudes going into the case are going to heavily determine how smoothly the case will proceed. Generally speaking, couples who are both on board with the divorce can work together to agree on divorce terms and settle the divorce case, supporting their best interests. Couples who are opposed to the divorce or want to tear each other down often have much harder divorce cases.
Therefore, before filing, Rice says that it is important to start getting your affairs in order.
"As part of your case, you will need to let the court know what all of your assets are so that they can divide them," he explains. "The court will also make decisions about child custody and child support, so they will need information about your income and ability to care for your children. Collecting this information and evidence now will help your case go more smoothly."
3. Understand that divorce takes time.
"It takes time," says Hossein Berenji, a divorce attorney and the owner and founding partner of Berenji & Associates in Los Angeles. "The divorce process takes time. It won't happen overnight. Spouses have to figure out several terms (e.g., division and allocation of assets, child custody, spousal and/or child support) before a court will finalize the divorce. States also have minimum waiting periods. In California, a court won't approve a divorce until at least 6 months after the couple first files the petition."
4. Exhaust all of your options.
"Before anyone pursues divorce they should take a deep breath and consider all of their options," says Dori Shiwrtz, attorney, divorce mediator and coach. "Unfortunately, most couples out there do not realize that there are better alternatives than the traditional attorney-driven conflict divorce. Sadly, the average divorce today costs $15,000 per person, equaling $30,000 per couple. This is far more than the average family can afford. Even if you cannot stand your ex, mediation is possible and it's not only empowering, but it saves your hard-earned money for you and your family. Through this process, a neutral mediator guides you both through all of the issues and you decide with your ex how to settle everything. The process takes a fraction of the time as a court/attorney divorce and is confidential, quick and lighter on your wallet."
5. Understand that divorce takes a lot of planning.
"Divorce can be a very challenging time — something that we focus on with our firm is what we call divorce preparation and planning," says Alphonse Provinziano, a Beverly Hills-based divorce and family law attorney. "Things that you have to keep in mind are consulting with a divorce attorney to understand what your rights are for spousal support, child support, property division, debts, and child custody. Often times, a highly qualified and skilled divorce attorney can help analyze the issue and assist the parties in reaching their objectives without getting caught up in the court system for long protracted battles, which aren't good for anyone. Of particular note, a qualified divorce attorney will be able to refer the parties to financial advisors, divorce financial analysists, forensic accountants, child custody mediators and other resources that are extremely helpful."
Provinziano says their best advice is to think about what you want your life to look like in the future and what your goals are, and then use the attorney's help.
6. Be willing to make compromises.
"Compromise is a must — getting divorced is all about give and take," says Steven Fernandez, a certified family law specialist in Los Angeles. "Figure out what's most important to you and fight for that. If you want the house, you'll have to figure out what you'll be willing to give up in exchange."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.