Would you know what to do if your partner suddenly asked for a divorce? Have you been contemplating if being uncoupled would be better for you? We outline key preparation you might consider when divorce may be on the horizon.
Getting divorced has been likened to undergoing open-heart surgery without anaesthetic. As a counsellor guiding several individuals through divorce, as well as working with couples on the brink of splitting, I can confirm it is an emotional and difficult process. And because of this, considering divorce can also be very difficult. Why would you undertake open-heart surgery if you can avoid it. In reality whilst the process is painful, most people feel much better after divorce, especially after a few years.
If you are contemplating divorce there are various areas that you need to consider to be emotionally prepared, practicalities which will help, legal guidance you can think about, and custodial considerations that you might like to mull on before you file a petition.
Imagine that you are going to participate in an endurance obstacle race. Preparation for divorce is a lot like this. The journey will be very challenging and you will need to be well prepared. A lot of the journey feels like you are just surviving, day-by-day, and that is sometimes good enough.
You get the divorce you get, not the one you want. Sometimes those contemplating divorce will come for an appointment and detail how they would like the divorce to go, what they would like their partner to decide. Divorce is not like an shopping trip on amazon, you don’t just click “save to basket”, and then head to the checkout. Rather much of the process is out of your control, and extremely testing of your patience, perseverance, sense of self, and your confidence. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, but if you like control, prepared to have this tested.
I use to be indecisive, but now I’m not sure. It is common to consider divorce, change your mind, consider it again, and retreat from it again. This is normal. Indecision driven by fear needs to be explored, perhaps with friends, or in therapy. The decision to divorce not an easy one to make.
If you want to know who someone really is, divorce them. Many of my clients are horrified when they have to face how hardened their ex-partners can become during a divorce. Do not assume that your partner will be able to remain calm and constructive during the process. Whilst this would be wonderfully mature, it isn’t what usually happens.
Negotiation is compulsory, not optional. The process of divorce is a protracted negotiation between two sides. Do yourself and enormous favour and learn as much about negotiation tactics as you can. Treating a divorce less as the emotional rollercoaster that it is, and more of a deal that needs to be made, will help you get through the process in a much better way.
Build on your strengths, work on your weaknesses. If you experience depression, anxiety, or self-esteem deal with these before you start to divorce. Harking back to my analogy about the obstacle course, having emotional vulnerabilities would be like starting the race with an injury. Start counselling or join a support group. If you have a weakness that can be highlighted as part of the divorce process, such as occasionally drinking too much, I would also advise that you reign this in during the process. Even though it sounds ridiculous I see case after case where occasional drinking is highlighted as part of a collection of unreasonable behaviours.
Find sources of support and sunshine. You will need to have a great network of supportive individuals. In our benchmark assessment of women experiencing divorce the most useful sources of support were family, established friends and counsellors. You will need them. Do not, for a minute, contemplate going through a divorce in secret.
There are several practical actions that will help you decide to divorce or stay together. Practical preparations will help you process the decision to divorce with less regret.
All relationships go through hell, some even survive it. Is the relationship over? Could it be recovered? Have you tried to reconnect with each other? You might owe it to yourselves to seek out a couple’s counsellor who can help you decide if a split would be in your favour. I hold sessions focused on the Exit vs Phoenix (the mythical animal, not the State). Can a relationship be pulled from the ashes of the marriage? Its not easy and the work to save the marriage may be challenging, but at least you can see how wide the divide between the two partners have become and what would be required in order to put the relationship back on track. Assumptions about a split can also be addressed. Perhaps the grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, but perhaps reality is different from those assumptions.
Gain control over your money, or this lack of control will end up controlling you. You need to understand two things about your money. Firstly, you need to know all about your joint finances – the assets, the debts, the retirement savings. I find that only during divorce do some clients start to look at their financial statements. If you split, you will need to know the total financial landscape. Some partners try to hide money, and sometimes they are successful, and many times they are not. Courts are not usually forgiving towards those who have misrepresented their financial status. Secondly, you need to know how much you need. Without being practically informed on what you spend, what you need, and how much you will need (considering your goals) you can not feel comfortable about any financial split. It is common to catastrophise, and worry, “I will end up living on the streets”, this is not the reality of many of my clients. It does require that you know what you need. This also helps one decide if they should negotiate for a clean break or continuation of funding scenario in the split.
Do something today that your future self will thank you for. Do not wait to split to consider retraining in another career, if you plan to return to education do this whilst you are married. Practically this means the cost of your retraining comes out of the marital assets rather than out of your share. Whilst sometimes this might mean that you seemingly may have a future income and potentially this may be raised as a reason to lessen any share of assets in your future, stay reminded all things, including a new career, take a while to take off.
It can take years to build a reputation, and minutes to ruin it. Reputation management will matter during the divorce process. Consider who needs to know what about you. Do you think it will reflect well on your if you post ugly tales about your ex on social media? It is upsetting when you hear that people have heard different reasons for your split than you agree with. A couple write the story of their marriage together, and the story of the divorce individually. Regardless that there will be various alternative facts put into circulation, act in a manner that your future self will be proud of.
I am a counsellor, not a lawyer, so my advice here is about dealing with the legal aspects, not providing a legal point of view.
Forewarned is forearmed. It is helpful to understand your legal position and worth having a discussion with a lawyer so that they can give you a legal perspective on what types of challenges you may face during the divorce process and how courts may look on you in terms of financial split and custody issues.
Make the match that will make it work. There are several family lawyers in Hong Kong who can support you through a divorce. If you are searching for a lawyer you may seek a recommendation from friends, or join a divorce support group, as a divorce consultant, so as to hear the point of views of others further along the divorce process than you. You want to ensure that your lawyer is a good fit with your personality and style. That said, remember that your lawyer is not your counsellor. Utilise your lawyer appropriately, for legal advice. Additionally, be cautious of those people whose words don’t match their actions. If they quote you one price for a piece of work, then charge you double, challenge the bill. The service industry is only as strong as our promise to our clients.
Mediation is a must – within reason. In Hong Kong it is expected that you will try to consider mediation as part of the divorce process. From my observations, and in my individual opinion, you can reach an agreement via mediation it will be, usually, much cheaper, than the legal option. However, mediation requires agreement and if you are very far apart over the financial split and child custody, having more areas of disagreement rather then agreement, mediation can be a costly and unproductive exercise. In particular if one of the partner refuses to negotiate, stonewalls discussions, and ignores requests, mediation will be extremely painful and possibly fruitless.
Understand the process for yourself – spend some time talking to others who have been through divorce and reading legal websites about the process of divorce in Hong Kong. Some are in links at the end of this article. This way your time with your lawyer will be spent on your negotiation rather than educating you on the process.
It is not the question if your child will be affected by divorce, but rather how much will they be affected. There are a number of factors that you might like to consider.
Let’s stay together for the kids. This happens regularly, especially when the parents have children going through sensitive periods such a important exams. This may seem practical, but only in the short term. In the long term invest in the marriage, try to get it back on track, rather than just hang it in there for the kids.
Tied together – even when you split. Those individuals with children will forever be tied together because they share children. The younger the children are, the more active and longer this connection may be. You may not want to have communications with the person who was once your partner, but you are going to have to. There are various tools to help when all communication breaks down (see Family Wizard).
First, do no harm. Even before couple’s divorce they may be causing harm to their children because of the conflict in their relationships particularly if they are being used as a messenger or a spy, are exposed to one partner badmouthing another, or they are used to score points against the other parent. If you are going to split, talk to a counsellor or psychologist about the requirements for collaborative co-parenting. Start any split with the child’s wellbeing in mind, and your intention to be the best version of a parent that you can be.
Enlist experts when required. If you are worried about your child offer counselling, or take them to a psychologist. Give your child another adult, besides their parent, to talk to. This legitimises their emotional experience, rather than telling them how you would like them to feel.
I hope this article has helped you in your pre-divorce considerations. Below are links about divorce in Hong Kong and other articles you may find useful. If you do decide to divorce, I recommend that you join our RED DOOR Surviving Divorce therapeutic support group. Recent research indicates that 100% of women who joined a support group found it a helpful support to get them through the divorce process.
Useful links to the legal situation in HK
Articles that you might find useful
When you might consider couples’ counselling
the best break-up books
Rules of modern marriages
the impact of divorce on women
Why you should join a divorce support group