The Smart Divorce: Proven Strategies and Valuable Advice from 100 Top Divorce Lawyers, Financial Advisers, Counselors, and Other Experts

The Smart Divorce: Proven Strategies and Valuable Advice from 100 Top Divorce Lawyers, Financial Advisers, Counselors, and Other Experts

by Deborah Moskovitch

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Practical, savvy, and wide-ranging, this resource shows men and women how to avoid the pitfalls that turn a straightforward divorce into a nightmare. Drawing on her own personal experience, the author also brings together the best advice from a wide range of experts that include divorce attorneys, mental-health professionals, and financial gurus


Practical, savvy, and wide-ranging, this resource shows men and women how to avoid the pitfalls that turn a straightforward divorce into a nightmare. Drawing on her own personal experience, the author also brings together the best advice from a wide range of experts that include divorce attorneys, mental-health professionals, and financial gurus. This guide coaches separating couples how to build a shortlist of the best divorce attorneys in their area, how to conduct an interview to find the right one, and what the full range of legal options are for each case. Further tips explain how to manage the paperwork, ways to lower legal costs, and practical advice for getting back to "normal" once the divorce is finalized. This reassuring manual also explains the stages of divorce grief and how to separate the emotional divorce from the legal divorce.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Drawing on her own experience and the experts listed in the title, Moskovitch, creator of the counseling service Smart Divorce, instructs men and women on avoiding the pitfalls that can turn an already painful divorce into a nightmare. She covers the gamut of issues, including telling the children about divorce, keeping legal costs down, and solving custody problems. Interestingly enough, she states that the three things needed to keep a marriage intact-truth, communication, and compromise-are the same things that are needed to come to a separation agreement. She includes numerous case studies and quotations from a number of counselors and lawyers, all of which will help readers clarify their options. Comprehensive and well done; highly recommended for all public libraries.

—Deborah Bigelow
From the Publisher

"Comprehensive and well done. Highly recommended."  —Library Journal

"Invaluable perspectives that will bring comfort and understanding to anyone making the myriad decisions involved in a divorce."  —Jon M. Garon, dean and professor of law, Hamline University School of Law

"Offers personal insight into her own experience balanced with professional advice from leading divorce professionals."  —Marketwire

"A clear step-by-step process to boost self-confidence and sharpen judgment."  —Jewish Free Press

"Follow this book's advice and you will save a lot of heartache, misery, and money."  —Dr. Richard A. Warshak, author, Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent-Child Bond from a Vindictive Ex

"The best advice."  —Toronto Star

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Smart Divorce

Proven Strategies and Valuable Advice from 100 Top Divorce Lawyers, Financial Advisers, Counselors, and Other Experts

By Deborah Moskovitch

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2007 Deborah Moskovitch
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-56976-489-3


Understanding Divorce

di·vorce (di-vôrs, -vors) n. the legal dissolution of a marriage; v. to sever the marital relationship with a spouse by a judgment or decree of divorce.

If divorce were as straightforward as the dictionary definition, the process would be a whole lot easier. Couples, children, and extended families could carry on with their lives as if nothing much had changed. The "legal dissolution" could involve collegial discussions in lawyers' boardrooms followed by the signing of papers, a handshake, and best wishes all around. Actually, some lawyers and judges favor the dictionary definition. "Treat your divorce as a business transaction," they urge couples who come to see them. There's a lot of wisdom in this piece of advice, if it is applied to the legal side of divorce. But this view neglects the emotional side of divorce. It's as if they're saying, "Business partnerships ... marriage partnerships ... what's the difference?"

Most people who have gone through a divorce — and most lawyers and judges, too — will tell you that the dictionary definition captures only one small part of the reality of divorce. Divorce is an extremely demanding and painful experience riddled with complications. When divorce isn't tragic, it's at least extremely disappointing. A relationship that was launched in a hopeful wedding ceremony followed by candlelight and the celebratory clinking of glasses has turned into a fire fueled by fear, anger, grief, and guilt.

I know, having gone through divorce myself, that it is both a business transaction (which I certainly didn't realize at the time) and a time of deep emotional distress (which I experienced all too well). And while it would be really nice if the two elements could be handled one after the other — you could spend a few years dealing with the emotional issues, and then, heart and head clear, go through the legal process — I also know that emotions and legal processes cannot be clinically separated.

* * *

Every divorce involves three intertwined components: financial, emotional, and legal. The traditional judicial system is equipped to handle only the legal aspect, and it often ignores or exacerbates the remaining two. Some lawyers settle almost every case early, and others settle after much emotional trauma and expense; however, most settlements are couched in purely legal terms, offering little help or understanding of how to live with the other two elements.

Hon. W. Ross Foote (Ret.), Alexandria, Louisiana

* * *

But the ultimate challenge of divorce is precisely this: the legal issues come up at the beginning of the process, when you're least able to deal with them objectively. At this stage, even if you're relieved to be separated from your spouse, you're still going to be off-kilter. Virtually no one walks away from a marriage with a slight mopping of the brow and the casual remark "Well, I'm glad that's over with."

What Is a Smart Divorce?

What, then, is a smart divorce? A smart divorce is one in which you accept that:

• both the emotional and legal sides of divorce are real and valid

• you have to go through both, and pretty much at the same time

• emotions and the legal process cannot be perfectly sealed off from each other

With a smart divorce, however, you also realize that the pain of divorce can be lessened dramatically by properly handling the competing emotional and legal sides of divorce. The smart approach to divorce:

• affirms the emotions experienced in marital breakups

• helps you gain perspective on your legal options early on

• assists you in making informed decisions, protected from the damage that uncontrolled emotions can cause

• guides you in meeting your children's best interests

• moves you and your spouse back into single status, ready to get on with the rest of your lives while fulfilling the responsibilities that flow from your former married state

Why is it critical that you get a smart divorce? Because you — and your children, if you have any — are going to be living the rest of your lives with the results of the decisions you make during the divorce process. You want to make decisions that will allow all of you to live without regret.

* * *

A smart divorce is one where the parties and counsel remain civil during the process. The schedule for the children is worked out reasonably peacefully, and the parties seem to be able to co-parent reasonably well. The monetary results are fair to both parties — no one is getting a financial killing one way or the other. A careful, competent judgment is written, spelling out the terms of settlement, so as to assure the settlement "sticks" — the parties are not going to return to court later to try and set the settlement aside.

Lawyer Dena A. Kleeman, Kleeman Kremen Family Lawyers, Beverly Hills, California

* * *

To get a smart divorce, you have to understand how to keep the "two divorces" — the emotional divorce and the legal divorce — as separate as possible. The members of this book's advisory team of divorce lawyers, therapists, and marriage experts are unanimous in saying that emotions should be kept out of the legal proceedings as much as possible. Letting your emotions become part of your legal decision-making process will ratchet up your legal costs, cause you to make faulty decisions, prolong the divorce process, and hold everyone back — yourself included — from moving on to a rosier future. So let's take a closer look at these two sides of divorce.

The Emotional Divorce

I had been crying myself to sleep every night for a good long time. But after ten months of marriage counseling and therapy, and much waffling, I finally realized that the only solution was for my husband and me to live "separately and apart."

I thought I had it figured out. I thought that when I finally came to terms with my marriage being over, the divorce would follow in an adult fashion. After all, we were husband and wife and parents. Surely things couldn't be so bad. We parented together; why couldn't we parent apart? But then strong, if not irrational, emotions from both sides got in the way. Sometimes it got so heated that I wasn't sure what we were fighting over. Was it finances? Was it the children's best interests? Was it trying to regain control over our own lives? The lines became blurred.

What I thought would be relatively straightforward and painless became complex and painful. I was shocked to see the smart, sensible me succumbing to unclear thinking. The divorce process was taking over my life, and my legal bills were mounting — and I was just getting started! I know now that I was firmly in the grip of many of the dynamics that are part of the emotional divorce.

The Shame and Blame Game

I felt like a victim. I was a victim. I had been wronged, and I couldn't let go of this thought. I wanted fairness. I wanted justice. How could this have happened to me, a good wife and mother? How could I hold my head up around my friends, most of whom were married with children and seemed to be doing just fine? I felt like such an outsider, no longer knowing where I fit in, especially any time I had to say, "No, actually, my husband and I have separated."

Blame not only rhymes with shame; it's the automatic response to it. You feel exposed. To divert attention from yourself, you lash out, blaming your spouse. It's very tempting at this point to look to the law as something that can help you show everyone who's really to blame.

The Desire for Revenge

Once the separation and divorce processes get rolling, many divorcing people's knee-jerk reaction is to seek revenge. They may have been leading separate lives together — an extremely sad, lonely, and frustrating way to live. And now they feel exposed: their private problems as a couple have become public knowledge — perhaps even juicy morsels of speculation and gossip. They are hurt, angry, and raw. And, whether only one partner is pushing for divorce or both are on the same page, the anger can spark the feeling: someone's going to pay for getting me into this mess.

* * *

There is no revenge in divorce; there are only legal bills.

Lawyer Steven A. Mindel, Feinberg, Mindel, Brandt, Klein & Kline, LLP, Los Angeles, California

* * *

Revenge can take many forms. A common one, unfortunately, is using the kids to get back at each other. Parental childishness over visiting times, purchases, school trips, and so on can turn kids into weapons skillfully deployed by Mom and Dad. Some parents even try to enlist their children on their side of the battle.

* * *

If I had a nickel for every time someone came into my office and said, "I'd rather pay you than pay my spouse," I'd be rich. My response to that is to say, "That's moronic. Save your money. At least keep it in your family. Use it to pay child support instead."

Lawyer Brenda Christen, Wilson Christen, LLP, Toronto, Ontario

* * *

Some divorcing couples seek revenge by lashing out at each other's families. Couples may have had perfectly warm relationships with in-laws, but now a line is drawn in the sand, with the camps forming up, usually along family lines.

* * *

I deliver my elevator speech to clients who are seeking vengeance. I tell them, "Call me when you hate wasting money more than you hate your soon-to-be ex."

Lawyer Steven A. Mindel, Feinberg, Mindel, Brandt, Klein & Kline, LLP, Los Angeles, California

* * *

If this aspect of the emotional divorce is allowed to mix with the legal decisions you have to make, you may find yourself hiring the type of lawyer known for fighting to win at any cost. Well, not any cost: your cost. You may add weeks, months, and even years of suffering and expense by using the law to exact as much emotional and financial pain on your spouse as possible or by looking for an elusive sense of justice rather than getting yourself into a new life.

* * *

What makes the process adversarial is deception, posturing, unreasonable demands, expectations that there will be some kind of restorative justice, which courts are not quick to fully address. Lost hopes and dreams. That's not compensable in the way that the loss is experienced.

Lawyer Carren S. Oler, Law Office of Carren S. Oler, Rockville, Maryland

* * *

One of the most difficult things for patients to accept, say therapists, is that they will never get the vindication or apology that they want so badly or feel they deserve.

* * *

Divorcing people hurt so much that they want to unload the hurt on each other. They go looking for the meanest, baddest lawyer in town. They strike out at each other because they're in the pain of being rejected, and they fear they will never find anyone else to love. They fear that they will be living a lesser life. I advise, "Let's think about the consequences. Do we really want to stay in litigation for two years? What about the children?" There's enough heartbreak here. Let's not add to it.

Psychologist Dr. Dan Baker, Director, Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch, Tucson, Arizona

* * *

The Disruption of Routines

At first, separation may seem pretty natural. What's so different? From your perspective, you are relieved not to be involved in daily battles. You welcome the emotional space you now have. From the children's perspective, it can seem as if the absent parent is away on a trip. In fact, while they may see one parent less often, he or she may be more attentive to them as a visitor than he or she was as an in-house parent. Some therapists call such a person "the born-again parent." (I'll return to this aspect of divorce in chapter 8.)

I quickly learned that life is more complex than that. School concerts and athletic events, visits to grandparents and uncles and aunts, birthday parties, weekend outings — anything that meant anything to our family — was drastically different. Where everything happened so naturally before, now I had to think about where I should sit, how I should react, how I should — or even if I should — communicate. Traditions big and small were changing, too. Our routines and the delightful planned exceptions to routines — vacations, family outings on the weekend, dinners at our favorite restaurants — most of these were compromised by the big change in our lives.

Adults can introduce stability to their own and their children's lives pretty quickly, but most adults cannot shake the feeling of guilt — guilt over upsetting their children and the larger family.

Changes to Your Social Life

I felt awkward when I turned up at social events unescorted. I would laugh and pretend to be happy. But when people asked me about life and work, I could sum up a whole year in five minutes. If I threw in the details of my divorce, well, that could have lasted five hours. But that would have been a good way to isolate myself even further: very few people want to discuss divorce at a party. I knew I was a good mother, a person with lots of interests, a loyal friend. But I felt different, rattling around in society with nothing to ground me in the events I was a part of.

Just as family members align themselves with the spouse they are related to, friends of a couple also begin to choose sides. When, because of your kids, you go to events where friends from both sides are present — well, it can seem like the start of a whole new Cold War. Sometimes, though, it isn't about how people feel about you; it's your situation they have a hard time accepting.

Do you know how tempting it is to avoid people who are going through a terrible illness or who have just lost a loved one? The whole thing makes you feel uneasy. You don't know what to say. Well, people treated me and my husband the same way. Some of our best friends avoided both of us like the plague. I suspect that some of them didn't want to face the precariousness of their own relationships.

I think the worst feeling I had, especially at the beginning, was that I was losing my identity. I was being sucked into an emotional vortex, with everything changing around me. I wasn't sure who I was anymore. That's not a surprise when you consider that my whole world had been based on couples: couples who were friends of ours from our school days or work; couples whom we'd met socially; couples who were the parents of our children's friends. It's a Noah's Ark society; with everyone around me going about two by two, where did I fit in on the boat?

Dealing with the Emotional Divorce

Although the issues laid out above just scratch the surface of the emotional divorce, all of them are normal and to be expected. But you can see, I hope, that you are in danger of making the wrong legal and financial decisions at this point unless you compartmentalize these emotions.

* * *

What happens when anger and emotions are involved is that people do not see things clearly. For instance, the wife is so mad that she's not thinking about how she should divide the property equally and what's a fair value to put on the house and how the children should be shared. She's just mad and wants to get at the husband. Then she uses the lawyer as a tool to carry out her anger, without regard to the cost and what she and her spouse are doing to their children. It's usually a case of good people acting badly, and they can't see it.

Lawyer, Nicholas A. Leto Jr., Veltmann & Leto, LLP, San Diego, California

* * *

You really need to take the time to process your thoughts and consider the likely outcome of your actions. It probably sounds impossible to you, but it can be done.

* * *

The emotional component of divorce is like a five-hundred-pound gorilla. It's there, and it sometimes causes people to do stuff. I tell people that I could have their judgment prepared by the next day. It's just a document, and I could predict in most cases what is going to happen two years from now. But because of the emotions, because of the fear, the anger, the confusion, and the sadness, it takes a long time for them to get through the process.

Lawyer Peter M. Walzer, Walzer & Melcher, LLP, Beverly Hills, California

* * *

So how should you deal with the emotional divorce? And how can you keep it separate from the legal divorce?

The legal divorce, as we will see later in this chapter and throughout this book, is all about laws, strategies, moves, and countermoves. It is not necessarily about what we feel is right, or best, or just.

* * *

I argue that our object as lawyers or mediators should be to solve a problem — namely, how each of you is going to manage in the future and the obligation that each of you should have to the other based upon the circumstances of your marriage. But, though laws were created to solve that problem, the procedures that the law created are not very good ones. Following legal rules won't leave you with justice, and what happens is that we lose sight of the problem and become absorbed with the process.

Mediator and lawyer Lenard Marlow, Divorce Mediation Professionals, New York, New York


Excerpted from Smart Divorce by Deborah Moskovitch. Copyright © 2007 Deborah Moskovitch. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Richard A. Warshak
"Follow this book's advice and you will save a lot of heartache, misery, and money."--(Dr. Richard A. Warshak, author, Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent-Child Bond From a Vindictive Ex)
Jon M. Garon
"Invaluable perspectives that will bring comfort and understanding to anyone making the myriad decisions involved in a divorce."--(Jon M. Garon, dean and professor of law, Hamline University School of Law)

Meet the Author

Deborah Moskovitch is the creator and facilitator of The Smart Divorce, a consulting service that provides tools and strategies for individuals contemplating or going through divorce. She has been divorced for 10 years and conducts workshops to help others through theirs.

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