Whether you are divorcing in a contested court battle or, hopefully, through a peaceful, out-of-court, solution focused process like mediation, co-mediation, or collaborative divorce, there are 4 basic steps that will set you on the right path for success. The key: Create a Plan.
In the commitment phase, you decide what process you will be using (mediation, co-mediation, collaboration, litigation), the goals to be achieved, how the process will be financed, what resources will be needed (financial advisor, child specialist, attorney mediator, tax advisor...), what information/documents need to be gathered, dates by which they will be gathered, and you set future meetings, agendas, and a target conclusion date.
The more time you spend in this phase, the better your discussions will be when it comes time to start making decisions. This is the time to gather all of your financial information: your income, expense, assets, and debts documents. Sometimes, it takes extra time to get pension/retirement documents through your company HR department. Sometimes, it takes time to educate one spouse as to the true financial picture so that they can recognize a good proposal when it's made. This is also a time to prepare for a parenting plan that makes sense, for you and your children. Understand your emotional needs and those of your children. Understand how to make the most of your parenting time AND allow the children to maintain a relationship with their other parent. Figure out what work needs to be done for a productive transition into separate lives and homes. And find out what your children are really feeling, fearing, and hoping?
Here's where the hard work comes in. With the right professional(s), you can have a focused discussion on each item that needs to be resolved. Talking over each other and jumping from one topic to another (visitation/custody leads to support, leads to the house, etc), becomes frustrating and unproductive. Staying focused on your goals (set out in the commitment phase), and working off of a detailed agenda, will help put you in "problem-solving" mode rather than attack/defend mode. Once agreements are reached, you can either have them written into an enforceable agreement, or try them out for a period of time and see if they work, before filing them with the court. The point is that every concern is addressed so that you and your family can move on with your lives.
How's it working out? People are often shocked that I actually call my clients 1 month, 6 months, and even a year after their divorce to see how everything is going. I always ask how the children are doing, if the parenting plan is still meeting everyone's needs and goals, if there have been any significant changes in their budgets, and if there is any new concerns that have come up. As children grow and start to develop their own social lives, changes do need to be made to the parenting plan. In today's economy, the support agreements often need to be adjusted. Maybe you kept the house and shortly after lost your job - now what? Your team/professional are still available for regular maintenance on your divorce agreement, should you need it. Divorce is one moment in your life. Your family is ongoing.