How Important Is Getting GOOD advice during Separation or Divorce? I think the answer is obvious – it is critically important. The real question however should be what is GOOD advice?
GOOD advice should help you navigate the minefield that is created by divorce. A minefield of emotional, financial, legal and practical decisions that must be made. GOOD advice will help you move forward, it will help you stay focused and it will be realistic and logical. What it won’t be is based on emotion.
One thing that comes up ALL OF THE TIME in mediation is people acting on the advice that they receive from others without thinking of the big picture or the ramifications of acting on this advice.
Please remember that advice (Good or Bad) is just a recommendation. You will get a ton of advice; usually from well-meaning people, on how you should handle things. They don’t have to live with your decisions though, nor do they have to pay for them, you do. Gather all of the information that you can, think it through carefully and then act.
Here are some examples of advice that is given every day:
You are living together in a tense home environment and your lawyer tells you “Yes, you can have guests over to the house, you have every legal right to do that”.
Is this GOOD advice? Do you invite the best friend that your soon-to-be ex hates over every day for dinner? Do you have your new girlfriend/boyfriend come over and stay the night? Do you have your parents come to live with you while you sort through your separation issues? Yes you have the legal right to do so, but what about the big picture? If you think that the situation will become worse and more stressful based on your actions, don’t do it. The important thing is to get out of this relationship and move on with your life, not show your ex who is right, who has the most power or bully them into leaving the home.
Your friends tell you “Go after your ex for everything you can, make them pay for wanting out of this relationship!”
Is this GOOD advice? Probably not. It may feel good to have the support of your friends but are they really looking out for your best interests? Do they understand Family Law? Are they considering that your ex is still the mother/father of your children? No, they are reacting on emotion and that is not all that helpful in keeping you focused. It can however cause you to pick battles that you have no chance of winning and you will spend a lot of money fighting those battles.
Your family says “Don’t disclose your pension, that @#!* has no right to it based on their behavior”.
Is this GOOD advice? No, complete financial disclosure is part of a separation. It may not always seem fair but this is the way it works. If you don’t disclose and you end up in front of a judge OR your ex finds out later, what do you think will happen to any agreement that you have come up with?
Other advice that will escalate the situation: You be the judge, does the end justify the means?
*You want your ex-partner out of the house asap because it is so tense and you can’t take the stress anymore. Your boss tells you that his/her behavior is harassment and that you should call the police and do/say whatever you need to in order to have them removed from the home.
*You know that your ex wants more time with the children than you are comfortable with. Your friend read a story about a case where access was denied or supervised visits were required because Children’s Aid was involved. You call CAS to ensure your ex is seen as an unfit parent.
*You take everything out of the safe deposit box, clean out the joint accounts and/or run up the credit cards before your ex has a chance to do it to you.
*You change the locks on the marital home because your ex didn’t come home last night or once again, someone told you that it would be a good idea.
*You have settled all of your financial issues and continue to deny requests for mediation to sort out your parenting issues because another divorced person told you that you would do better in front of a judge.
Yes all of these things happen and we have all heard the terrible stories. Revenge, anger, frustration and fear do not make you think clearly!
Whether it is a lawyer, parent, best friend, co-worker, accountant or new partner- don’t give the decision making power to someone else. It is so important to get expert advice and then make your own decisions about what to do with that advice.
I was told many things that I was ‘legally’ entitled to do and many things that my friends and family thought I should do during my divorce. At the end of the day I made decisions (based on solid information) that I could live with. When you are alone with your children after the divorce, make sure that you can face them and know that you did everything you could to try to make the transition easier for them. That however angry you were you treated your ex like a human being and that you are not carrying around guilt or anger for losing those battles that you should never have been in in the first place.
Your friends and family are there to laugh with you, cry with you, get mad with you and support you. These supporters have a vested interest in you. They want to see you win and if they are not professionals they can often get caught up in the emotions and the unfairness that exists in the Family Law process.
This really is not the time to forgo GOOD professional advice so that you can make informed decisions.
I always say, “You got into the relationship together, get out of it together.” You owe yourself that.
Julie Gill is a Qualified Mediator and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst in Ontario.