Monday, October 20, 2008

The Challenge of Change - Managing Divorce Related Stress

Here is an article I found by an Alabama attorney written a few years ago but still relevant. Although Mr. Shaw practices in Alabama, the information is not state specific and is useful to people getting a divorce in Washington State This article and similar information may be found at Keep in mind that not all information on this site is applicable in Washington State.

"Our culture is full of clich├ęs about change. They are repeated to us from the time we are children, and become ingrained into our vocabulary. We tend to pay good lip service to the idea that when change happens in our lives, we will be ready for its challenges. However, we are often not as well prepared for the challenge change presents as we think we are. More often than not, that challenge is stress. Whether the change is good or bad, hard or easy, voluntary or forced upon us, there is an inherent level of stress in every change we face. Nowhere is that more evident than in the challenges and changes put upon a person and a family by the dissolution of a marriage.

Our firm deals with people every day who are trying to manage varying degrees of stress related to the changes brought about by divorce. Through my own family experience, I know how those changes can effect every family member with varying degrees of stress. Divorce can be the complete destruction of all stability for one party and the opening of a door to a greater sense of peace for another. The reasons divorce occurs vary and each situation is unique to itself. From the most amicable uncontested divorce to the most hotly contested custody dispute, stress is the common factor. How the parties deal with stress determines how healthy the change can be, and how the parties will be able to deal with the changes divorce brings about.

I am very fortunate in my practice to have the opportunity to work with a number of professionals in various fields that deal with the challenges people face while going through a divorce. Through my experience, I have compiled a list of suggestions that I share with my clients regarding ways they can deal with stress. Taking these steps will not totally remove the stress brought about by divorce. Hopefully, it will help make this time of incredible change a process of growth and learning, so that those going through it will come out healthy and whole.

SEEK EMOTIONAL SUPPORT: Unlike any other area of the law, family law deals with some of the most raw and personal issues a family can face. Many different emotions and feelings will rise – from anger, regret, fear, despair, anxiety, frustration, and distrust to feelings of relief and new beginning. All the emotions are real, and all the feelings a person has are valid. It is how those emotions and feelings are dealt with that will determine how a person survives a divorce. Whether it is a pastor, support group, close friend, counselor or therapist, I recommend to my clients that they find a “safe place” or person to confide in to help work through these emotional times. Do not try to go it alone, and do not try to keep these emotions and feelings bottled up – more often than not that leads to a more difficult time in working through the divorce process.

It does not matter whether you are the one who wants the divorce or not. I had one counselor tell me that the person who realizes that a separation in the marriage is necessary often looses the support of those around him or her, no matter how correct that decision may be. Seek the support of others, and look to counseling when needed. There is no stigma in needing help going through a divorce. Keep your children in mind as well – they are facing the changes and stresses with you, and their emotions and feelings are just as real and valid. With the right assistance, you and your family can make it through these very challenging and difficult emotional times.

PRAYER/SPIRITUALITY: I have found that for many people, going through a divorce can be one of the greatest challenges of faith they will ever face. It can also be one of the times of greatest spiritual growth. I am not advocating any particular religion or religious practice. However, I do recommend that you put faith and spiritual well being at the forefront of your concerns while going through a divorce. You should meditate, pray, or seek the guidance of a pastor, priest or rabbi. Change comes about in our lives. Allowing this change to work a positive spiritual effect in your life can help you to learn from the situation, grow as a person, and be healthier when the process of change is complete.

SEEK LEGAL COUNSEL: A divorce not only presents emotional challenges and stresses – it is a legal proceeding that requires special attention to the particulars of your individual situation. Our laws require that certain burdens be met and presented in specific ways before a court can grant a divorce. Calculation of child support, asset and debt division and property settlement all have areas of particularity that must be addressed. I have watched individuals who have tried to represent themselves have their case dismissed because they have not met the requirements our laws put in place to insure that the divorce process is not abused. I have watched them walk away from the bench discouraged and having to start the process over, increasing the stress of the situation. Assistance from expert legal counsel can help relieve some of that stress.

The most important aspect in choosing a lawyer is finding someone with whom you feel comfortable. The attorney-client relationship is important, and you must feel that your attorney has the ability to protect your interests, advocate your position, and understand your concerns. You must find a lawyer who you trust, because you will need to share some of the most intimate details of your life with your lawyer. You must be able to work as a team. If that type of working relationship can be established, the process can work smoothly, and some stress may be relieved.

SEEK FINANCIAL GUIDANCE: One of the greatest challenges, and consequently greatest causes of stress in a divorce, is handling the financial change. Often the parties go from a two-income household to two one-income households, with mirroring expenses. Dividing financial assets, bank accounts, retirement funds and the like can unravel the most well devised financial plan. Parties may come out of the process with debt loads that they never anticipated. The payment of child and spousal support combined with other financial obligations can leave your budget reeling. Tax consequences can be enormous. If you have an accountant or financial advisor, talk with them about the effects of the divorce on your financial situation. Let your attorney know who your accountant or financial professionals are, so that they can work together as team to protect your financial interests and design a financial plan to achieve your goals.

LEARN FROM THE CHANGE: One of the best pieces of advice I have heard from a family counselor is that if the second marriage is a success, the first was not a failure. A divorce allows a person an opportunity to reevaluate where he or she is in life, what expectations he or she has in marriage, and what are his or her personal goals. Often, the factors that led to the breakdown of the marriage can provide the building blocks for stronger foundations in future relationships. No matter what the cause of the separation, learn from the changes and challenges you have been presented. Learn how to communicate and understand your emotions. Learn positive ways to deal with change, stress and feelings. Learn new skills as a parent, partner and friend. Adjust to the changes presented and take this unique opportunity to grow from the challenges and stresses the divorce has raised.

Going through a divorce may not have been your choice, or there may have seen no other alternative. Let this be a time for change that leads to personal growth and self-exploration. Take the lessons the process presents and apply them to your life. Begin to rebuild and know that with support, prayer, appropriate advice, planning and self-awareness, you can take this difficult and stressful challenge and not only survive, but become a better parent, friend, partner and person. You can meet the challenge of change. Reach out to those around you, find the support you need, and you will be successful."

Paul Shaw

Birmingham, Alabama


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