No one expects divorce to be easy, but too often, people underestimate the intense, emotional turmoil they will face during the divorce process.
As Dallas Family Law Attorney Abby Gregory explains, “While most people know a divorce will affect their kids in some way, they rarely understand the toll a divorce will have on them personally. If you don’t take steps to properly process those emotions, it could have a negative impact on you, your children and the outcome of your divorce and child custody dispute.
The unraveling of a long-term relationship and peeling back those layers can be very draining, and it can release emotions you didn’t even know you had. So it’s important to have someone on your side who can teach you how to manage those emotions. An empathetic divorce lawyer and skilled mental health professional can be invaluable resources during a divorce.”
Abby explains why she encourages clients to seek the help of a mental health professional.
If you’re contemplating divorce, the following five tips can help you stay grounded during one of the most challenging and emotional periods in life.
1. Schedule Time with Your Therapist or Ask Your Attorney for a Referral
It isn’t unusual for Texas divorce attorneys and mental health professionals to collaborate during the divorce process. Mental health professionals who specialize in supporting families before, during and after divorce can educate both parents and children about what to expect and provide them with tools to cope.
According to Abby, “I always tell clients, ‘I’m happy to take your call any hour of the day, but sometimes sitting down with a mental health professional once a week or every other week can help alleviate stress and even help you sleep better. Seeing a therapist allows you to get the tools you need to cope and can give you a place to vent.’”
Connatser Family Law often calls upon Dallas-Fort Worth psychotherapist Linda Solomon, LPC, LCDC, LMFT, when clients need emotional guidance during divorce and to help them prepare to testify in court or for a custody evaluation. She also serves as a collaborative neutral during collaborative divorce cases and as a parenting coordinator following divorce decrees in Dallas and Collin Counties.
One of the first things Linda does when she sits down with a client is discuss how no one sets out to divorce. As she explains, “I will often say to couples, none of us ever have the idea of a divorce or not living every day with our children in our life plans, no one does. It’s not on our radar screen. You don’t think about it when you’re in a marriage and raising a family.”
2. Learn How to Transition from “We” to “I”
“Divorce is a major life change, where you move into another stage of life, and it’s also a developmental change. For clients who have to face going from a we – as in a couple – to an I – as an individual – dealing with all of the emotion around that, then trying to balance and continue to work together for the well being of the children, the stress of that is tremendous,” Linda says.
Relying on a mental health professional during this highly volatile time can help ease the stress for parents and children alike.
“Clients who feel blindsided, are still deeply grieving or in shock, and have a hard time functioning day to day, typically benefit from the support of a therapist. Many family law attorneys turn to marriage and family therapists, psychologists and social workers who have a background in divorce and understand the stages of divorce, because they can help those clients go through the grief process, and also be supportive through the business aspects of the divorce,” Linda says.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help for the Kids and Yourself
Some people fear that admitting they see a mental health professional will jeopardize their chances of securing custody of the children. However, seeking the support of a therapist early on, for your children and yourself, can be beneficial in many cases.
Abby reveals how the courts view clients who seek the support of a mental health professional and how it can impact the outcome of a divorce.
Linda strongly encourages parents to schedule time for children to meet with a therapist. As she explains, “There are so many ways the children need attention and support during the divorce, and therapists and mental health professionals who are trained to work with children and really enjoy that area of their work can be supportive in so many ways.”
4. Rely on the Pros to Save You from Your “Least Best Self”
When people don’t have the tools to properly channel their emotions, they risk having episodes that are very uncharacteristic of their personality. Unfortunately, these episodes often erupt at the worst place and time.
According to Abby, “You don’t want to have a melt down in the carpool line or at your child’s baseball game where other people can witness that episode, because those witnesses could be called to testify in court. A therapist can help you learn how to keep those emotions in check. They can also teach you how to communicate more effectively so emotions don’t cloud your message during a hearing or custody evaluation.”
At the same time, judges understand that nobody is perfect and people do make bad decisions during a divorce, but you have to own it or risk losing your credibility. “It’s important to admit you made bad decisions, and say ‘I let my emotions get the best of me.’ You don’t want those snippets of bad behavior to define your parenting abilities,” says Abby.
5. Don’t Follow Your Heart During a Divorce
Linda says she often describes divorce as a legal process driven by the heart. “The first place we go to is our heart. Understandably, most people begin the divorce process driven by emotions, and that’s not the best state to be in when you’re trying to make decisions that are so important.
I’ll often say to clients, ‘Wait a minute, that’s the angry part of yourself talking, you don’t want to make a decision about your house or children based on your angry self, stop. We need to get back to your logical self to make decisions.’ It’s those things mental health professionals do, to be able to coach people through those moments and be a support to family law professionals, that will give families skills and tools to survive the divorce process,” Linda says.