If you have been paying attention to the entertainment news lately, you may have seen the articles released last month about Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen divorcing in just a day. While their divorce certainly did not take only one day (there were likely months and months of negotiations and exchange of financial information prior to them filing for divorce – which were strategically kept out of the public eye to respect their privacy and that of their children), Tom and Giselle can be credited for handling their divorce matter quickly and amicably, particularly given their complicated financial holdings. What could have been a long, drawn-out court battle (think of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, as examples) was resolved by Tom and Giselle negotiating and signing a divorce agreement before either of them filed for divorce. Their divorce agreement was then presented jointly to the court.
As a divorce lawyer, I am frequently asked how quickly clients can obtain a divorce. Clients often expect that they, like Tom and Giselle, can quickly finalize their divorce, particularly if their finances are not complicated or they don’t have children. When I tell them that the average divorce case in the Massachusetts court system usually takes approximately a year from start to finish (perhaps longer if the case proceeds to trial), clients usually then ask me how to expedite the process.
Quick divorces are rare but not unheard of. While there is no surefire way to have a quick and amicable divorce, as that really depends on both parties being aligned to try to do so, there are certain steps that divorcing spouses can take to expedite the process. Here are a few tips to consider
1. Prepare in advance
Divorce laws and the court process are confusing and complicated. Confusion often adds time as you or your spouse may not understand your rights or obligations under the laws, which may cause you to backtrack or divert attention away from the settlement. Taking time, in the beginning, to educate yourself about the law and court process, including hiring an attorney and any necessary experts to guide you through the process, will save both you and your spouse a lot of time and headaches in the long run. Preparing in advance should also include gathering and exchanging documentation regarding the income, expenses, assets, and liabilities of both spouses so that each has a complete understanding of the family’s finances.
2. Prioritize your goals and desires
Once you have prepared and before negotiating with your spouse, you need to strategize on potential issues that may arise in settlement discussions. You should take the time to reflect on your goals and desires and be able to prioritize what is the most important to you. Doing so before you sit down with your spouse to discuss the resolution of the divorce, you will be better able to communicate and negotiate. While the ultimate resolution of your divorce may not be exactly what you are looking for (your spouse most likely feels the same way), if the agreement you and your spouse reach satisfies your prioritized goals and desires, it is probably a fair deal.
3. Prepare together
The best advice I can give clients wishing to resolve their divorce matter quickly is to work with their spouse before formally filing or going before a judge. If you and your spouse are aligned in doing this, the process will proceed much more quickly. If the divorce is “friendly,” you can sit at the kitchen table or coffee shop to work things out together (this is, of course, only after you have consulted with an attorney who has advised you on your rights and obligations under the laws in your jurisdiction).
Preparing together is only possible if both of you want to do so. Suppose your spouse does not want to work together or takes unreasonable positions when trying to reach an agreement. In that case, you may need to seek court intervention or find alternative means of dispute resolution (like mediation or conciliation, where a neutral third party can assist in helping you and your spouse reach an agreement).
4. Communicate and compromise
This tip is often easier said than done. The end of a marriage often causes one or both spouses to feel anger, grief, anxiety, and fear. It is natural for both parties to feel entitled to certain things or feel that certain ways of handling issues are better than others, which is often complicated by these emotions. If possible, avoid getting overwhelmed or distracted by small issues or details. Try not to think of the dissolution of your marriage as a battle. Rather, if you focus on the big picture and what the overall fair result is for you and your family, you may realize that some of the smaller things that once bothered you or for which you feel entitled don’t really matter in the end.
As you think through your options and goals, you must effectively communicate your thoughts with your spouse. You should also be prepared to listen to what your spouse tells you and determine if some middle ground will work for both of you. If you go into a negotiation without intending to compromise, you will not reach an agreement.
5. Have realistic expectations
Your divorce will take more than one day. While rushing through a divorce may seem like a benefit in the short term, failing to take the time to think through your options or fine-tune language in a binding divorce agreement may have negative long-term consequences. The more realistic you are with your expectations and that the divorce process will likely take longer than you think, the more patient you will be. Patience will make the process smoother and allow both you and your spouse to feel heard by the other. Having realistic expectations of how long things will take and what the ultimate results will be will allow you and your spouse to reach an agreement more quickly and amicably.
6. If you have children, make them the priority
Divorce can often be a traumatic experience for children. This is particularly true when there is a long court battle over where the children will reside or how much time they will spend with each parent. Research has shown that ongoing parental conflict increases the risk of psychological and social problems for children. However, research has also shown that most children adjust well within a short period after their parents separate if they present an aligned front and are able to co-parent.
To reduce the traumatic experience of divorce for children, it is important for you and your spouse to plan and present that plan to your children together. You and your spouse should focus on what is truly best for your children – not what is best for either of the parents. By reducing the impact your divorce will have on your children, minimizing as many changes as possible in the short-term after separation, and working to be the best co-parents you can be, your children will be better able to move forward post-divorce in a happy, well-adjusted way. If you need the assistance of a skilled professional to co-parent – do it early. Your children will benefit, and you will likely be able to resolve your divorce matter more quickly if you align on what is best for your children.
7. Take care of yourself
Divorce can be overwhelming. Feelings of anger, grief, anxiety, and fear will subside over time, but it is important for you to take care of yourself emotionally while going through the divorce process. If you need help coping with or managing your emotions, don’t be afraid to seek it. Skilled mental health professionals with experience in counseling people going through a divorce are available to you. The less you allow your emotions to impact or cloud your decision-making, the better able you will be to prioritize, communicate, negotiate, and otherwise proceed with a (hopefully) quick and amicable divorce.