As published in “My Life Publications” February 15, 2021.
Some of us call it the muddy time. It’s the time in between the decision to divorce and when the actual divorce is made final. Whether a couple is living together or apart, this is an extremely stressful time and is full of uncertainty. Emotions are running high and the fear is so thick it gets stuck in your throat. How will there be enough money for two households? Will I have to move the children out of their childhood home? How much of the 401k do I get? Was he/she cheating?
Strategy – How much time do couples spend here? Unfortunately, the answer is it varies. The obvious goal is to spend the least amount of time here as possible. But it is a necessary period of adjustment. If you go too quickly, you may make decisions with haste and regret them. If it drags on, tension can grow, especially if one party begins to get frustrated with the pace and wants to “get on with their life.”
Trial Run – The muddy time is a good time to “try before you buy”. Start doing some research on new housing options or order a home appraisal. Take time to crunch the numbers, and then crunch them again. It takes time to review budgets and find necessary financial documents. If you and your spouse are separated, this is a good time to work out different parenting schedules. There is no harm in following one schedule this month and trying a different one next month. What a great opportunity to see how the kids adjust and to see what works in real life as opposed to on paper.
Finances – Another big issue couples get stuck in the mud about is the finances. Financial transparency is critical during this time. When the budget must suddenly stretch across two households, things can get very messy (muddy). Communication is essential especially when spouses are living apart. The legal statute that oversees this financial time calls for status quo; in other words, normal family expenses still need to be maintained. Weekly meetings to discuss upcoming expenses can be immensely helpful, as is a team approach to tightening the belt.
Good Faith – What does it mean and how can it help get you unstuck? Just because you have decided you want a divorce, doesn’t mean it happens with a snap of your fingers. Working together to get there is something mediation can help with and creating good faith between you and your spouse helps the process along. Good faith means you do what you say you are going to do. It means treating the other person with respect even though they drive you up a wall. Embrace an attitude of supporting each other so that you both end up ok after divorce. It also means having enough restraint not to aggravate the situation. Flaunting a new lover or purchasing a mid-life-crisis-mobile are examples of what not to do during this time!
The Muddy Time is a time of frustration, difficult emotions, fear, and anxiety; and it can feel like it’s lasting a lifetime when you’re in it. Keep a calm head and remember that this is a temporary phase. Remember to aim for the status quo, muster as much restraint and temperance as you can, and try to work together. Think of it this way: in the office, we work with people we don’t get along with all the time. And we can work with our soon-to-be-ex as well. The finish line is up ahead…just do the next right thing and remember to breathe!
The following excerpt from the PBS Benjamin Franklin webpage, Citizen Ben, demonstrates the wisdom of Lax' and Sebenius' advice that every successful negotiation requires moves away from the table to set ...By Victoria Pynchon