A “legal divorce,” as opposed to the “real divorce,” is an important distinction as each requires a different kind of attention, expectations, and focus. Confusing the two can make the process much more difficult to deal with, and understanding the difference will eliminate the frustration that comes from expecting relief from the wrong source the result of which is wasted time, energy, and money.
The legal divorce has very limited concerns: to get a judgment of divorce (divorce decree), you must file the appropriate documents with the court and make arrangements for your property, your children, and financial support (if any). If you have a high degree of conflict, it is also about keeping the peace and protecting you, your children, and your property. That’s it. Although each one of the issues may have their own complexities that a good lawyer will know how to deal with, getting court orders for money and parenting plans is all the legal divorce is about.
The law is used to impose a decision in your case only when there is a disagreement that has been brought to court. If you can reach a fair written agreement with your spouse, you can get almost any terms you like without much reference to laws. But, where children are concerned, a judge might look at your terms to make sure they are reasonably well supported and protected.
Depending on the degree of conflict over the financials, your attorney can protect your best interest by obtaining information about the finances and making sure you receive all that you are entitled to under the law. If there is a disagreement about the best interest of the child(ren), your attorney can use the appropriate procedures to protect them.
At the end, however, all you get from your legal divorce is a piece of paper — a Judgment — with findings of fact and court orders on the above subjects. That’s all. This is what people go to attorneys for — a piece of paper with orders about peace, property, custody, and support.
You might think that a legal divorce will solve all of your divorce problems, but it probably won’t, and it is critically important that you understand this so you don’t expect too much from the legal divorce — or a lawyer or even a judge — and set yourself up for frustration and disappointment.
Your real divorce, on the other hand, is about ending one life and beginning another, then making it work — emotionally and practically. The real divorce is about breaking old patterns, making a new life and seeking a new center of balance. It’s about doing your best with your new situation.
Understanding some basic things about how the real divorce works will help you enormously in dealing with yourself, your spouse and your list of practical problems.
How you feel is probably the most real thing in your life right now. Nothing else in your life is as real as your pain, your fear, your anger, hurt, guilt, tension, nervousness, illness, depression — whatever it is you are feeling.
The practical tasks you face are also very real: how to get by financially, how to rearrange the parenting of your children, what to say to family and friends, what to do next, and so on.
In your real divorce, then, you face these challenges:
Emotional: This is about breaking (or failing to break) the bonds, patterns, dependencies, and habits that attach you to your ex-spouse. It’s about learning to let go of anger, fear, hurt, guilt, blame, and resentment. You learn about past mistakes so you don’t have to repeat them. You develop a balanced view of yourself, your ex-spouse, and your marriage. You create self-confidence and an openness to new intimate relationships.
Physical: Our minds and bodies are not separate, and life does not come in these neat boxes. Emotions — especially strong ones that are ignored, denied, or repressed — are frequently expressed physically. During divorce, people tend to experience a lot of tension and nervousness. They get ill frequently and have accidents. This is a time when you must take extra good care of your health, pay close attention to your body, and be extra careful when driving.
Practical: This is about taking care of business on the physical plane — including the legal divorce. It’s the nuts and bolts of what to do, where to go, and how to get there as you begin to build a new life for yourself. You need to create safety and security for yourself and your children; to make ends meet in a new lifestyle that produces what you need and needs no more than you can produce.
Going through major life changes — in other words, re-creating your life — is demanding, hard work, but it may be the most important thing you ever do. I encourage you to pay as much attention to your real divorce as your legal divorce, and understand that your attorney or the legal system, as important as they may be to your legal divorce, are not designed to help with the real divorce as described above.