Last week, as a guest on Dr. Drew Midday Live radio show, I was asked to comment about the phenomena that many divorce lawyers already know about. That is, the increase in divorces in January. Unfortunately, after the holidays and with the start of a new year, some people who may have been contemplating divorce decide to finally move forward. While this is often a mutual decision between couples, sometimes the filing of a divorce comes as a complete and utter shock to the non-filing party.

Being blindsided by a spouse’s decision to divorce can leave one emotionally devastated and paralyzed with fear. Dreams of raising children together or retirement years traveling to exotic places are replaced with nightmares of a future of being alone and struggling to make ends meet.

No one likes to be taken surprised by such a major life event such as a divorce. The good news is that there are signs one can look for before a divorce is filed and some action steps to take once the divorce is started to avoid being blindsided by divorce.

  1. Do A Reality Check – There are often bumps in the road that may signal that marital bliss is not being achieved. One needs to look at these bumps pretty closely. Are there fundamental problems that the marriage will not be able to overcome? Some of these may include disagreements about money, lack of communication, disagreements about parenting or even whether to have children, etc. Clearly, all couples have arguments, but if these arguments are pervasive and long lasting or if there is infidelity, oftentimes, these issues cannot be cured. The bottom line is to try and recognize this. If there is a willingness on the part of both parties, perhaps you can try counseling. If not, then there needs to be an acknowledgement that things may not improve and you may headed on the path to divorce;
  2. Listen Closely – Frequently the spouse contemplating the divorce will give some indication that they want the marriage to end before they actually file papers. Listen closely, if your spouse tells you, even in a fit of anger, that they no longer want to be married. After the fact, many people look back and realize there were clear signs of the impending divorce that they chose to overlook. Oftentimes, these may even take the form of changed or secretive behaviors by the spouse contemplating divorce;
  3. Make The Necessary Preparations – If you believe that divorce may be a possibility, it is worthwhile to seek some information so that you are prepared if it is filed. Get an understanding of your finances and monitor household spending;
  4. Gather A Support System – If a divorce is filed, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to gather a strong support system and to do so quickly. This includes a lawyer who specializes in divorce, possibly an accountant and/or financial planner who can help advise you on the finances, a counselor who can help with the emotions, and friends and family who have your best interests at heart and can provide needed guidance and understanding;
  5. Try To Look Toward The Future And Not The Past – Beating yourself up about what you may have done (or not) to “cause” this divorce is not productive. Just like it takes two people to get married, a divorce does not typically result from one party’s actions alone. Use your support system referenced above to recognize that this is reality and understand that you can find happiness again.

Undoubtedly, divorce is extremely difficult for all those involved. The suggestions above will hopefully help to allay some of the fear and shock that takes place when a divorce is unexpected.