Divorce isn’t considered a traumatic event, at least in the medical sense. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines trauma as resulting from an event that led to serious injury or near death. While the aftermath of a divorce could potentially lead to traumatic circumstances, the divorce process itself does not fit this description.
That isn’t to say divorce trauma isn’t real. The volatile mix of a crippling heartbreak and the cost of legally separating is more than enough to stress out even the most stoical. There are numerous studies connecting divorce with a slew of health conditions, including the aptly named “broken heart syndrome.”
For this reason, no one should ever handle a divorce without help. Divorce lawyers, for instance, are a must for handling contested or uncontested divorce in Colorado or anywhere that supports seamless, lawful separation. But amid intense emotions, how does the legal aspect help?
Stopping the blame game
It isn’t unusual for troubled couples to start pointing fingers at each other. Adultery allegations, financial hardship, irreconcilable differences—settling them tends to lead to a long, costly fight.
It’s even less ideal when children are involved.
The stress that builds up as the conflict progresses, not to mention flaws in the traditional fault-based system, prompted the creation of no-fault divorce in 1947. The first state to adopt it was California in 1969, and the last was New York in 2010. However, as of this publication, only 17 states offer no-fault divorce as the sole option for legal separation.
Many states, including Oklahoma, maintain fault-based divorce, though they offer the no-fault option upon request. For them, there are instances where the reason for divorce is heinous, like domestic violence. In this case, the victim would also demand justice and compensation.
Despite this, judges tend to lean toward awarding the divorce. It would be as disadvantageous to the court to maintain an unhealthy marriage as to the couple, as it would add another case to try in a judicial system burdened with backlogs. Sometimes, judges would order a “separation-based divorce,” a third option that tells couples to live separately for a while before deciding.
As a result, the traditional system is losing its place to the no-fault one. It lets the spouses move on from their relationship faster and for a lower cost. As for seeking justice, some catalysts like domestic violence are already grounds for criminal prosecution. The victim will get it either way.
Finalizing the terms
Determining fault isn’t the only thing couples need to worry about. Any assets they’ve specified as marital property (e.g., named to both spouses, agreed upon in the prenup) have to be equitably distributed. There’s also the matter of who gets custody of the children.
Disputes regarding the division are more common than one might think—and it’s a major source of emotional stress. You’ve probably stumbled upon stories of rich and famous couples entering into a divorce and arguing about who gets the larger slice of their once-joint wealth. The tension extends to the kids forced to watch their parents’ heated exchange spiral out of control.
Such situations aren’t the majority. Although statistics are scarce, one estimate says at least nine out of ten divorces are uncontested, including those that start contested. Uncontested divorce is exactly as it says: both parties don’t dispute the terms of their separation. It’s usually achieved through mediation or arbitration, both involving a professional as a third-party witness.
The few cases that go to trial often deal with parts where the couple can’t find common ground, namely child custody. Contrary to popular belief, the mother doesn’t always get the children in divorce. The father can be deemed worthy to care for the children as long as there’s evidence that he can provide enough to ensure their well-being.
A party unsatisfied with the judge’s decision can file an appeal. But owing to their low success rate, divorce appeals aren’t worth it unless you have money and sanity to spare.
Instead of appealing, a less stressful way is to modify the verdict to account for changes since it was delivered. Everything from getting laid off from a job (caused by circumstances beyond the person’s control) to increased cost of living are valid reasons to amend the decision.
Hiring an expert
At this point, it’s well-established that the most affordable option couples have is an uncontested, no-fault divorce. But as explained earlier, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Some couples must contend with the rigors of taking their case to court. In this case, the most common advice is to get legal representation.
Most lawyers won’t deny that their services come at a premium and that the cost rises the longer the case goes on. Whether being discouraged by the price tag or having no means to pay for one, some couples are resorting to pro se or self-representation in divorce procedures. In other words, they’re their own legal counsel.
This approach is just as stress-inducing, if not ruinous to a person’s life, as spending thousands on a pro. In Canada, for instance, two mothers who attempted pro se representation ended with one selling her home for many years and the other eventually enlisting expert help through a loan she’s still paying off. Their cases lasted for decades.
Awareness of legal expenses is crucial in deciding between settling and going to trial. Unless you have attorney-level knowledge of family law, let alone the workings of a divorce proceeding, pro se representation is ill-advised and not worth the savings.
If cost is keeping you from hiring a lawyer, there are workarounds. Some lawyers can represent their clients pro bono or free of charge, granted the latter really can’t pay for one no matter what they do. You can search for them in legal aid organizations, local bar associations, or law schools. Their services are even recommended for out-of-court settlements, such as arbitration.