The 4 Worst Ways to Start the Divorce Process

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

People who haven’t gone through a divorce usually don’t understand the divorce process and all the options that are available when it comes to getting divorced.Before I got separated, I didn’t know what collaborative divorce or mediation or litigation or divorce decree meant. Let me take a step back and start from the beginning.

Picture this: A woman’s husband walks in the door one day from work and says, “We have to talk.” In less than 60 seconds he blurts out, “I want a divorce.”  Or how about this: A guy’s friend tells him he saw his wife with another man. The guy confronts his wife and instead of denying it, she says, “I’m glad you know. I want a divorce.” 

I think it’s okay to make the assumption that when someone or both people decide they want a divorce, one or both of the people involved become angry at times (or the whole time or forever.) They are also sad and frustrated and depressed and scared, but the reason i bring up anger is because with anger can come poor decision making. What that means is, a person who is angry can immediately rush to call an attorney or sue for sole custody, in other words, make a decision based on anger, which can have dire consequences and a lot of money down the drain.

Kate van Dyke has been a divorce coach for over a decade, and is the founder of @Divorce, a website that offers education and resources for people going through a divorce. In other words, @Divorce is like getting a free consultation and tons of information without having to go to an attorney!

Here is van Dyke’s guest post!


The 4 Worst Ways to Begin a Divorce, By Kate van Dyke, M.A., PCC


When people in the midst of nightmare divorces have consulted with me to help them, I ask them how their divorce process started.  Usually the trouble started right from the beginning.   Here are the 4 worst ways to start your divorce process.


  1. Calling a lawyer first. 


It’s normal to be fearful when confronted with divorce.  And when we are fearful, the reptilian brain takes over, we circle the wagons and seek ways to protect ourselves.  In this state, calling a lawyer, someone to protect us, feels like the best right next step to take.  The problem with this approach is that there are many ways to get divorced and you may be calling an attorney that may not practice the process that will be best for you.  It’s kind of like buying batteries before you know whether you need ones that are AA, AAA or AAAA.  They are all useful batteries but they may not fit.


–      The better way is to first get educated about process options: Collaborative Law, Mediation, Traditional Litigation, Arbitration or Pro Se – is a great resource to learn about them– so you can choose the process that fits you.  Only then will you know what kind of attorneys to interview.


2. Using the same lawyer as your best friend or neighbor and expecting  

the same outcome.


Nobody has the same set of circumstances as you.  Did they have the same:



Assets and liabilities?



Number of children?

Children’s ages?

Length of marriage?

Spouse’s ages?

Special issues – medical conditions, extended family, etc.

The list could go on.   .    .


So why assume that your outcome will be the same if you use their attorney?


The better way is to look for an attorney that is right for your situation.  And the optimal path is to work with your spouse so you hire attorneys who have already worked together, where there is a basic level of trust and respect between them and ones who have offices close to each other so you don’t end up paying for a lot of travel time.  CPAs, investment advisors, Certified Divorce Financial Planners (CDPFtm), Divorce Coaches and therapists are good sources for referrals.  A word of caution here – if you seek referrals from other attorneys, they may receive referral fees (up to a third of the retainer) from those lawyers they refer you to.  That can affect whose names they suggest.  It’s cleaner if you look for names from professionals who have no monetary interest in which attorney you choose.


3. Filing for divorce in court.


I am still amazed at how many people believe that the only way to start a divorce is to file a petition in court. If you want to lose control of your divorce, its timeline and increase unnecessary costs, file for divorce and put your process in a judge’s hands.


–       The better way is to file after you and your spouse have already made agreements.  Now, I realize that in some cases, a court’s involvement may be necessary in order to get decisions made, but if you start out by working to gain agreement outside of court, you may get further than you think.  Court has a way of upping the ante and triggering fear.  Avoid it as long as you can and are making progress coming to agreements with your spouse.   You can always file if you get stuck.


4. Filing for sole custody.


There are 3 issues here:

1)   triggers your spouse

2)   misunderstanding about how much control sole custody provides;

3)   often triggers the appointment of an influential professional outside of

your control;


Do you really want to start your divorce by triggering your spouse’s fear of losing their parenting relationship and stating for the world to see that your spouse can’t be trusted with the kids?  Do you think filing will lead to their being more amenable to your having more influence over the children?  Will filing help you achieve your goal?  Is your goal to keep the kids safe or to hurt the other parent?  If the kids are immediate physical or emotional danger, you need to talk to an attorney and see what legal recourse you have.   Filing for sole custody will not address immediate endangerment issues.


Next, let’s talk about the widely held custody myth that if you have sole custody, you will be the decision maker about the kids’ schedules, bedtimes, screen times, etc.   Having sole custody does not mean you determine those things.  What it does mean is that you would have final say over the decisions about health, education and religion for your kids.  When they are with the other parent, that parent decides what time they go to bed, who they play with and whether they can play grand theft auto all day long.



The better way.  Even if you have significant concerns about your spouse’s ability to parent, see if there are other ways to find agreement without involving the court at the beginning.  A family therapist, child specialist, mediator or divorce coach can often facilitate creative arrangements that address each parent’s need and insures the safety of the kids.  Just like with filing a divorce petition, you can file for sole custody later if you can’t work it out.


Thanks Kate! Check out Kate’s site, before you do anything! And even if you’re already in the divorce process, her site offers so much information that will help you!


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    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at:

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