Strategies for Less Painful & Expensive Divorces
In The Wiser Divorce, Angie Hallier, a family law attorney for over 20 years, shares strategies she’s honed for her clients to help them find less complex, drawn out, expensive, and painful paths through divorce and out to the other side. These include lessons on keeping your emotions in check and compartmentalized from the legal process, putting children first and collaborating with your spouse on childcare, finding the right attorney, prioritizing goals and desired outcomes, avoiding unnecessarily high financial costs, and considering a settlement in lieu of a divorce ruling, among others. She suggests approaching divorce like you would starting a small business and makes the analogy believable. By following her recommendations, you’ll have a better chance of emerging post-divorce with a positive attitude, your children’s welfare intact, and your financial house in order, ready for exciting opportunities in what Hallier calls your “Next Best Life.”
Ditch the drama and forget the blame game, to loosely paraphrase Hallier’s advice. Divorce is commonly—and with good reason—thought of as a major life crisis, but being prepared and mindful of potentially better resolutions can make the difference between flailing through it bitterly, dragging the family along with you, and accruing heavy legal fees versus working effectively with a lawyer to reach a speedy settlement or court-ordered decree while keeping your children protected from the conflict. The Wiser Divorce features realistic strategies, positive solutions, and even worksheets that can help heal a broken family and help you grow personally.
Divorce as a Battleground and a Gradual Shift to New Paradigms
Steve begins the conversation by asking Hallier how divorce came to be seen as a winner-takes-all legal battle and wonders if that perception is finally beginning to change. Hallier argues that this idea of divorce as battlefield is a myth, albeit one based in the long-standing practice of approaching divorce as a lawsuit in which one spouse sues the other. This leads to a majority of cases going to court, a process steered by attorneys who believe that you have to go to court to discover the facts of a case and get them in front of a judge. Nowadays, Hallier maintains, there are many more ways that people can go about ending the legal contract of marriage that don’t require courts and judges’ decrees. She elaborates on this by explaining that there is no “supreme commander of justice” in family law courts that will render judgments that make everything fair, validating the fundamental goodness and rightness of one party against the other. Judges are ordinary people who are overworked and jaded from years of being on the receiving end of countless emotional appeals to justify one party and resolve every detail in the cases they oversee. Even though they may seem sympathetic to a petitioner, they’ll never be able to render the kind of decree that many spouses want, especially considering that they’ll only spend a few hours on the case. They are also restrained by the law as to what they can or can’t order. Understanding the reality of a judge’s limitations can be transformational to the extent that people realize they aren’t going to get everything they want in the judicial outcome. This can open their minds to far less expensive and time-consuming alternative resolutions to divorce.
Keep Your Feelings Out of It
Their talk turns to the importance of exercising restraint over emotions, speech, actions, and attitudes during the divorce process. Hallier suggests that people look at divorce as a series of rooms: one where you are trying to deal with the end of the legal contract of marriage and another which your emotions about your spouse and family and the divorce can inhabit. The key idea is the separation of the rooms. If you mix up the purpose and content of your rooms, you end up walking around trying to divide your assets and debts and deal with your children’s needs while experiencing all sorts of strong emotions and resentments. When you’re with your attorney, you need to stay focused on making decisions about your financial future and minimize the distraction of feelings. Hallier uses another analogy of approaching divorce the way you would approach launching a small business. If you were starting a new business you would plan, you would execute, you would be smart about spending money, and you would set goals, all of which are relevant to the divorce process as well. She mentions that The Wiser Divorce contains scripts that can be spoken aloud which help train your brain to use certain concepts and language as well as worksheets that get you to focus on the good things that will come out of your divorce and define your unrealized aspirations.
You’ll learn how to develop a solid game plan, identify bad habits that lead to unhealthy choices, collaborate with your ex-spouse to give your kids a bright future, save money by choosing your battles wisely, and avoiding court when possible. The goal is to embrace your next best life and emerge from the divorce process a happier, healthier, and more fulfilled person.
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Steve Pomeranz: Here is a fact: About one in five women fall into poverty as result of divorce. About one in three women who own a home and have children at home lose their homes. Men can also experience difficulty as well. Most men experience a loss in their standard of living in the years after a divorce, a loss generally between 10 and 40% depending on circumstances. We’re going to talk today about the financial impact of divorce and discover smarter ways to handle this particular life crisis. I’ve invited Angie Hallier, a practicing divorce lawyer and a certified family law specialist. She is AV rated by Martin Dale Hubble and authors a divorce education column, and she has a new book, The Wiser Divorce: Positive Strategies for your Next Best Life, where she lays out a better way to handle this important and possibly expensive life changing decision. Really, Angie, it was a great book. Welcome to the show.
Angie Hallier: Thank you, Steve. So, glad to be talking to you.
Steve Pomeranz: Divorce is a life crisis in many ways. What is it about divorce that can create so much destruction and problems well into the future?
Angie Hallier: The number one thing is how people handle their emotions during the divorce. We all know that divorce, it gets a bad rap. It has this reputation for being a very expensive battle. What makes it a very expensive battle is how people monitor their speaking, their actions, and their attitudes. When they employ the right strategies for those things, it doesn’t have to be a battle and doesn’t have to be as expensive.
Steve Pomeranz: Used to be, I don’t know, maybe even just 30-years ago, that in order to get a divorce, someone had to be at fault and it was never spoken about in polite company and it was kind of a shameful action. The whole idea of divorce though has changed over the years. You write in your book, I thought this was really quite interesting, “When it comes to getting married, the law treats us like grownups and trusts us to figure it out, but when it comes to divorce, the courts traditionally have the final say.” How did it end up that way?
Angie Hallier: Part of it is just the way people looked at divorce, again as a battle. It’s a lawsuit. Unfortunately, that’s how you have to do it. Somebody has to sue somebody; someone has to respond. Many times, you ended up in front of the judge because the old mindset and the old mindset of attorneys was you go to court, you get your answers.
Steve Pomeranz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Angie Hallier: So many things have changed today. There are so many different ways that people can go about ending this legal contract of marriage that don’t require that.
Steve Pomeranz: Divorce, if it’s a battleground that’s going to be fought in the courts, someone’s got to win and someone’s got to lose, right?
Angie Hallier: That’s the myth, but that’s not true. One of the things we talk about in the book is how there really isn’t a supreme commander of justice. People think if they go to court, they will be declared right, or they will get their revenge, or someone will just declare who is good and who is evil. It’s simply not the case. Judges are human like the rest of us. When you trust your destiny in the hands of someone who may only see you for three hours and who you’re asking to decide the outcome of a 20-year marriage, you’re not going to end up with what you want. That’s one of the key things to saving money in your divorce, is being smart about the process you use to end it.
Steve Pomeranz: You spend a chapter discussing the life of the average judge. As lay people, we may go to court and we think, “He’s really listening to my side of the story and able to really express and maybe ranting and raving a little bit, but he’ll get me because I’ve been so unjustly treated”, but the judge is sitting there. Just give us a quick idea of what the judge’s day might be like.
Angie Hallier: Right. If you’re a divorce judge, all day long, day in, day out, you see people come before you who are arguing about things that grownups normally wouldn’t argue about, whether your child can be in soccer, who is going to get the $50 savings account, things that just to the outside world you can’t imagine they’re being asked to decide, intimate things about your life. Then, that’s not enough for them. They have a pile of paperwork where everybody is arguing back and forth and back and forth, so they become, they get really jaded. Even if you come before them and they think, “Wow, you’re really sympathetic”, they’re restrained by the law as to what they can order and what they can’t order. They have very little time. They only hear the very relevant parts, they don’t hear what a dirty scoundrel your soon to be ex is, and they’re human. Put that all together and you get maybe not the best outcome.
Steve Pomeranz: My guest is Angie Hallier. She is a practicing divorce lawyer and the author of The Wiser Divorce: Positive Strategies for your Next Best Life. I have read it, and I do recommend it if you’re going through this situation or contemplating it. It’s an important book to read. Angie, though you talk about setting aside emotion. That’s so easy to say, but hard to do, especially if you feel that you’ve been shamed or something the spouse has done that has hurt your feelings. It’s very, very hard to put those emotions aside. What can we actually do? What are some first steps that a person can take to start to pull themselves together, so they’d have the right outcome?
Angie Hallier: One of the things I suggest is that you envision your divorce as a series of rooms because what I want people to do is be able to come into the divorce room, that room where you’re actually just ending that contract and put their emotions in another room because those emotions aren’t going to go away, but when you mix up your rooms and walk around all the rooms while you’re trying to divide your assets and debts, talking about your children, that’s when it gets confusing. Envision that when you’re with your attorney, when you’re making decisions about your financial future, you’re not mixing it up with these other emotions because you’re going to have them.
The other thing I talk about is it really is like setting up a business. The matter of your divorce is a business. If you were starting a business, you would plan, you would execute, you would wisely spend your money, you would set goals. You need to do the same thing for that process of your divorce.
The other is I mention using scripts, training yourself to speak about your divorce in a certain way that triggers your brain starting to think about it in a certain way. I’ve got some advice in the book for using scripts as well.
Lastly, really sit down and do some worksheets about this. We have that in the book as well. Think about what is the good you’re going to take forward from your divorce because I guarantee you there was some. Think about what things you never want to take forward that you had during your divorce, what you didn’t like that you’re just going to lose and forget about. Think about what those unfulfilled things are that you have inside you. Maybe it’s time you wanted to spend with certain people you didn’t or experiences you want to have, and just focus on what that future can be and that will really help.
Steve Pomeranz: I think a lot of people feel that settling in certain areas of the divorce, they’re looking for a sense of fairness. I’m going to give an example that you gave in the book. Often one party runs up a significant amount of debt. Without any consultation with the other spouse, they just used the credit cards and they built up debt. The spouse is perhaps unaware of it, and then the spouse has to assume his or her portion of the debt in divorce. That just doesn’t seem fair. Is achieving fairness truly the ultimate goal?
Angie Hallier: You want people to be able to hold their head up when they’re done and say, “You know what, this was an outcome I can live with”, but fair doesn’t really exist in the law. Nothing is fair. If we go back, you think, “It was never fair I fell in love with this guy or gal to begin with.” You need to change that thinking from fairness to what I can live with to gracefully end this marriage.
Steve Pomeranz: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I guess it’s quite important to find the right attorney for this wiser divorce. How do you go about finding this person?
Angie Hallier: Right. It’s the right attorney for you because there are a lot of good attorneys out there. It’s just like doctors. There’s great doctors, there’s not so good doctors. The same with attorneys. You need to find an attorney that immediately puts you at ease and makes you feel that they have your back. You need to find the attorney who is in the right price range for you because there’s all hourly rates when you’re looking at attorneys. If you have a simple case, you don’t need the number one attorney in town. If you have a very complicated case, you may need multiple attorneys working on your case. You have to consider all of those things.
For me, what makes the best attorney is what I think makes the best doctor. If you go to a doctor with a problem and they say, “Here’s what you have. Take this pill five times a week. Come back and see me.”, that’s not really the best thing. You want a doctor that says, “Here’s what I’ve identified you have. Here are the four options for treatment. Here is what you could expect from each option. Here is the option I recommend. Here’s what you need to do your part in the treatment.” That’s what makes a good divorce attorney. You need to look for someone like that.
Steve Pomeranz: You write in the book that there’s ten ways to wise up about divorce. I’ve listed them out here. Allow me to list them and you can explain. Number one is: Hire the right attorney. We’ve talked about that. Number two, which seems quite obvious, but I know in the emotion of the moment this often does not take place. Number two is: Put your kids first.
Angie Hallier: Yes, absolutely. It is amazing because so many people come in and say, “Listen, my children are my number one priority”, and then they act in ways that make it clear they’re not their number one priority. You have this obligation as a parent, quite honestly no matter what age your kids are, to shield them from the litigation, to not let them be involved, to not guilt them, to not engage them in the battle, to not see you drowning in sorrow, to protect them and keep them safe and to co-parent with the other parent so that’s what they see.
It’s hard for people because there are so many emotions and they do feel maybe so angry at the other parent, but people that really love their children will do things and go to the ends of the earth for them and divorce is a really important time to do that.
Steve Pomeranz: It takes a lot of self-control to not rag on your soon to be ex with the children and say, “He did this” or “She did that”. It takes a lot of self-control to stop that. Number three here is: Prioritize your goals. That sounds so kind of businesslike and cold but explain it with regards to divorce.
Angie Hallier: Right. We always look at what will happen if you do have to have a judge decide things. A judge can’t prioritize what’s most important to you. Maybe you want your house, but maybe you also want a certain amount of child support. Which one is more important to you? When you settle your case, you can prioritize and focus on those number one goals for you because you’re going to have 10, 20 maybe decisions to make to end this legal contract of marriage. If you look at settlement, you have the opportunity to see really what’s most important to you, prioritize that and make sure you get those gains.
Steve Pomeranz: One listing here that I really liked, which was subtle, but I think it’s actually pretty important is, understand your settlement options. We tend to think, a possibility of thinking, that you can kind of get the moon, but if you know what your settlement options are, you know the parameters and what you can operate and then what to expect, I think it would be easier to make decisions.
Angie Hallier: It’s absolutely to make decisions. That’s what a good attorney will do. They will outline for you what probably your best and worst case scenario is at court, what the likely outcome is and also define those confines within which a judge must order things. A settlement gives you so many opportunities for creativity that are not available.
Just as an example, most judges in states will give you spousal maintenance for a certain number of months if you’re entitled to it in a certain amount. Judges don’t have the ability to lump sum that forward. When we’re looking at a settlement about maintenance, many times I’ve settled cases where we decide we’re going to give significantly more assets and or cash to a spouse who is entitled to maintenance right up front, so they have the flexibility to use that money as they want so that the other adult doesn’t have to keep writing them checks every month. That’s an example of what you can do when you settle instead of going to court.
Steve Pomeranz: Also the receiving spouse doesn’t have to be waiting for the check every month and have to maybe change her or his attitude towards the ex-spouse. It helps to get on with your life if you can just give a lump sum and just cut the cord. We don’t have all the time in the world. My guest is Angie Hallier. She wrote The Wiser Divorce: Positive Strategies for your Next Best Life. Number nine here is: Follow your attorney’s advice. It’s listed “Follow your attorney’s advice, follow your attorney’s advice, follow your attorney’s advice.” What are you trying to say?
Angie Hallier: “Follow your attorney’s advice” is kind of what I was trying to say, but it is amazing, people pay their attorneys all this money, and they rely on them, and when they do not follow their attorney’s advice, they’re making a mistake because, like me, I have been through thousands of divorces. I know how things you do now play out in the end. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you now, listen to me.
Steve Pomeranz: We have about two minutes left and I just want to get to some of the end thoughts here because again, it’s what’s all in the book, but to you, Angie, what is a perfect divorce, and how would you achieve it, in about a minute and a half?
Angie Hallier: Right. The perfect divorce is one where you come out at the end of your divorce and you know what your plan is for the future. You know where you’re going to go, you know how much money you have, and you haven’t spent excess money you shouldn’t spend during the process, and you have it to live your next best life.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah. That’s really the key. It can turn into a financial nightmare. You want to, like everything else in your life, start to take control of your finances. In a situation where it can be so devastating when you’re making these life choice decisions, by far you want to be very careful and very smart when it comes to divorce. If this is going to be a win-lose situation, if you’re going to go to court and rack up all these bills, you have to really think, “What are we going to have left after this whole process is over and done with? What is left for me to live my one best life?”
My guest is Angie Hallier. That is spelled H-a-l-l-i-e-r. She can be found at angiehallier.com. Angie, thank you so much for sharing your time.
Angie Hallier: Thank you, Steve, so much.