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Beginning [the End] With the End in Mind

At the eve of a new year, we are mindful of new beginnings. Hopefully, with these beginnings will come new resolutions or re-commitments. But making resolutions alone will not be sufficient to help us accomplish all that we hope for in the new year. Benjamin Franklin reminds us that “Failure to plan is planning to fail.” How we end the year, how we envision what next year will be, formulating our goals, strategizing our action plan and figuring out the support we need will determine whether we succeed or fail.

The same is true with the ending of a marriage and how a divorcing couple plans out the next chapter of their lives. A key ingredient to determine how a family will survive, thrive or (God forbid) fail, will be the planning undertaken at the early stages of the uncoupling process. This brief article will highlight five strategies to consider in the unfortunate event that a couple decides to divorce, guiding them to the best way to get divorced, so that their next chapter, and new beginning, can be as successful as possible.

1. Start with the end in mind.

Start the divorce process with the intention of having a good divorce. What does that even mean? Certainly, this will be different for every person, but there are some common answers. It makes sense to work backwards from the point of figuring out what kind of future relationship you want to have with your ex. Especially when there are children, the relationship that one parent has with the other parent is the most significant indicator as to how the children will get through, and get past, their parents’ divorce. What is essential is that this be done sooner rather than later. Once a more adversarial divorce, or negative influencers, enter the picture, chances are it will be much harder to work together with a soon-to-be-ex-spouse to achieve the goals that both partners want.

2. Determine your values and goals.

In order to start with the end in mind, a divorcing spouse needs to really assess what is important. Is it about the money? Is it about prioritizing the needs of the children? Is it about getting out of a bad situation as soon as possible? Fairness is also a common response, but very often too subjective to be of any help. In my experience, notwithstanding all the challenges and insecurities associated with divorce, I would define a successful divorce as having a settlement which addresses the needs and concerns of all family members, as much as possible. Better to think through a settlement from the vantage point of what is important to all family members, instead of operating out of fears and insecurities.

3. Watch out for the wrong influencers (even if they mean well)

Divorcing couples have reasons to be fearful. There will be a lot of changes. But, it is important for each partner not to forget that the other partner also has fears. Once a couple forgets that there are two stories to be written, they tend to get consumed with mistrust, causing them to get stuck in a mindset of either/or and a zero-sum game. With this mindset, upon hearing that a loved one is getting divorced, friends and family often push that person to find a “shark” to get the protection they seemingly need. This mindset helps contribute to the exact fears couples are looking to avoid. Be careful not to jump into protecting one person by threatening or doing harm to the other. The best defense is not a good offense when one’s family is at stake. Better to start with cooperative efforts and wait and see for such efforts to be reciprocated. Otherwise, be sure that if one member of a couple starts with adversarial and hostile interventions, they can expect the same in return.

4. Find needed emotional support

The emotional world of a divorcing spouse is in turmoil. Similar to the grief of losing a loved one, coupled with some of life’s most significant stressors, including financial pressure, relocation (for at least one spouse), not to mention guilt, anger, sadness and many other deep and difficult emotions, it is hard to imagine how a divorcing spouse (especially the non-initiating spouse) can keep it all together. Yet, now that spouse faces a near impossible task. Somehow, this person, in the midst of one of their most difficult life experiences, must now negotiate a divorce settlement that could likely last a lifetime. Without the emotional support of a therapist or divorce coach (or a wise and helpful friend or family member), this feels like mission impossible. Each member of a divorce couple must make sure to take care of themselves and get the support needed to ensure they are in a position to make the best decisions in these worst of times.

5. Find a process that will help to achieve stated goals

Process is essential. Even though divorce court and litigation are part of our traditional and cultural thinking about divorce, there are alternatives. Especially when less than 1% of all divorces are settled without a trial, it makes little sense to gear up for a legal battle that statistically is not going to happen. Everyone knows that a courtroom is not the place for a family to resolve their differences. Instead, it makes sense to find a process that will honor the goals and values that couples set for themselves and their children. Whether it is mediation (see Link, 3/28/19 edition), collaborative divorce (to be discussed in my forthcoming article) or going to a responsible and honest beth din, there are choices to be aware of before going down the adversarial path of no return (and no more money). To get more information about these choices, visit our website at www.MediationOffices.com .


Adam Berner specializes in mediation and collaborative family law, is the founder of the Berner Law & Mediation Group, with offices in Manhattan and Hackensack. As a pioneer in the matrimonial dispute resolution field for the past 25 years, he has served as president of the Family and Divorce Mediation Council of NY, founding president of the NJ Collaborative Law Group and founding member of the NY Association of Collaborative Practitioners. In addition to his private practice, Berner serves as a consultant for the Beth Din of America, is a certified mediation trainer, an adjunct professor at YU’s Cardozo School of Law where he teaches mediation and collaborative law and, on occasion, teaches conflict management for rabbis at RIETS. Additional information can be found on www.MediationOffices.com 

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