Taking Control of Your Divorce Through the Power of Questions
by David G. Crum
Experts agree: the emotional and financial upset of a divorce has a long-term effect on your personal well-being, a grief that can feel on par with the death of a loved one. To this I humbly propose a radical question: How can your divorce be the best thing that ever happened to you?
I ask this not to deny the pain of divorce, but rather to open a door to another possibility. A divorce provides the opportunity to learn to empower your entire life, by first learning to empower yourself in this unusually difficult situation. The key to doing so is controlling your experiences by asking the right questions. Each moment throughout the process – whether when choosing a lawyer or negotiating a custody agreement – presents you with an opportunity to ask yourself an Empowering Question. More than simply hoping for the best, Empowering Questions are inquiries that open a door to your subconscious, taking advantage of the cognitive power that lies within.
The first step when faced with any complex dilemma is to determine your desired outcome, even if you are unsure how to get from here to there. So, as a less serious example, if you want to find the right pet for your family, ask yourself: “How can I find a pet that will be low-maintenance, good with my kids, and cost less than $200?” The outcome is clear; it’s the getting there that relies on your creativity and determination. The implicit demand for exploration in any Empowering Question puts you in the driver’s seat, a position from which you are more likely to make the best decision possible, even in a difficult interpersonal scenario such as a divorce.
Empowering questions share the commonality of being motivating, forward thinking, and constructive. Below I will take you through several common divorce hurdles that you may encounter along your journey. For each, I have devised an example of an Empowering Question, along with a correlating answer. Keep in mind: Empowering Questions can be as varied as the individual doing the asking. The questions that will help you achieve the best possible outcome for your divorce may look quite different, depending on your goals.
Empowering Questions for Your Divorce
Hiring the right divorce attorney can mean the difference between a divorce that is expensive and acrimonious and one that ultimately satisfies your needs. Rather than blindly choosing out of the phone book, asking Empowering Questions can help you find the attorney who will best match your interests and style.
Empowering Question: How can I find a lawyer who will support my outcomes, get me the settlement that is in my best interests, and work with me to control costs?
Answer: These questions can be asked directly of the attorney in the initial consultation. The client should inquire, for example, what types of policies are in place to control legal fees (for example, delegating case activities to the lowest level of competence). Resources such as referrals from friends and attorneys’ websites can also help you glean the necessary information to help you find the right match.
The tone you set with your opposing party (and their counsel) at the beginning of a divorce proceeding can be difficult to undo. For this reason, it is wise to make a conscious decision about your communication style at the outset.
Empowering Question: What can I do at the beginning of my case to communicate a non-adversarial tone to opposing party and foster a cooperative relationship?
Answer: Consider sending an email to your opposing party at the beginning of the case explaining your desire to foster a collaborative tone. Another tactic is to review your attorney’s letters before they go out, or explain that you do not want aggressive, threatening language in the initial correspondence. This is in no way a sign of weakness, just professionalism. If the other side plays rough, you may obviously switch tactics.
Every divorce proceeding involves a discovery process, whereby each party must provide the opposing counsel with all information relevant to the dissolution of the marriage. The challenge of this stage is twofold: 1) organizing the information can be time-consuming and expensive, 2) the breadth of the requested documents may feel intrusive and exacerbate feelings of anger and overwhelm.
Empowering Question: How can I assist my attorney in providing and obtaining all necessary information for the case while controlling my costs and legal fees?
Answer: Insist your attorney seek only the information you really need, in lieu of sending out a blanket discovery request. This serves to expedite the proceedings by not requiring that the opposing party provide irrelevant information. Compiling a list of documents/materials you know the opposing party has in his or her possession can also help to advance this procedure. Another time and money saver is photocopying and organizing all requested documents yourself so your attorney or his staff does not spend their time doing this task.
Contrary to many people’s preconceptions, the great majority of all divorces are hashed out in mediation, rather than in a courtroom. During mediation, a facilitator – usually an experienced divorce attorney – will aid both parties in arriving at a mutually satisfying agreement or settlement. If this becomes impossible, going to trial may be the next step. However, mediation offers an opportunity to avoid many unnecessary costs – both emotional and financial.
Empowering Question: What can I do to best utilize the mediation process in order to obtain a fair settlement for everyone involved?
Answer: Preparation is key. Begin by talking to your attorney in order to gain an understanding of how the mediation process works. As well, make sure your attorney has all requested materials so that there are few surprises. Knowing what you need out of a settlement well in advance of mediation can go a long way towards resolving a thorny negotiation.
Divorce certainly comes with a price tag, a fact which may hurt worse in today’s economic climate. In fact, studies show that divorce rates plunge during economic crises, as many couples choose to hold off on filing in order to avoid still more financial uncertainty. Those who do move forward with their divorce may want to consider certain strategies to minimize their expenses.
Empowering Question: Given the difficult economic times, what can I do to obtain the best result possible, while controlling my costs and attorney’s fees?
Answer: Cost-saving strategies include: 1) Get a home market analysis instead of an appraisal, which can save hundreds of dollars in appraiser’s fees, 2) Have the attorneys enter a stipulated discovery order to limit discovery to only necessary documents, 3) Get a settlement facilitator early in the case, 4) Consider other divorce alternatives like mediated divorce or collaborative divorce. Develop a realistic outcome – just as the economy may have affected your income, your opposing party may also be struggling to stay afloat.
Asking Empowering Questions is a strategy that contains boundless possibilities. It allows you to design a specific path that is right for you and your needs. At the beginning of this article, I posed the question: How can your divorce be the best thing that ever happened to you? The answer depends entirely on you and your desired outcomes. Asking Empowering Questions, like the ones above, will help you get there.