Coping with Stress in Your Divorce
Managing Stress in Your Divorce or Family Law Case
Among the most stressful life experiences, divorce and family law cases can be profoundly emotional. They represent a turbulent period for both spouses and can affect the children for years to come. The divorce, legal separation, or child custody dispute may challenge your resolve initially. But once you have acquired certain coping skills, you’ll be confident with your role in the court proceedings and with managing your stress level.
Why Worry About Stress Management?
Productively managing the stress of divorce not only improves one’s sense of well-being when much needed, it can also impact the outcome of the case. Take your frustrations out on the racquetball court. Start training for the next 5K run. Hike the White Tank Mountain trail. Develop a routine of releasing stress through activity. Keep yourself centered and in control of negative thoughts and emotions.
Stay on top of your game throughout the divorce process, which could take six months, 18 months, two years or longer if there is an appeal. That’s a long time. Have a plan to manage the emotional highs and lows along the way.
Understanding why certain court proceedings, such as mediation, are part of your case also reduces stress. Call 602-548-3400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request attorney Scott David Stewart’s book, The Arizona Divorce Handbook: Your Step-By-Step Guide to Navigate Arizona Divorce.
Divorce can wear you down. After the death of a spouse, divorce ranks second on the list of most stressful life events. There’s even talk among some mental health professionals of “divorce stress syndrome.” Here’s our point. The emotional impact of ending a marriage is a real phenomenon and should be taken seriously. Have a plan to deal with it in a responsible way.
Bottled-Up Under Pressure
Not everyone’s reaction to stressful situations is directed outwardly. Many people keep emotions bottled-up inside, yet they manifest nonetheless. Individuals do react differently, but anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness and mild depression are not uncommon. As a parent under the stress of child custody proceedings, managing emotional and mental health to maintain all appearances of stability could be the determining factor in obtaining a desirable parenting time schedule.
Maintain Composure Despite Hurtful Testimony
Understandably, it may be difficult to restrain yourself when your spouse seems spiteful, for example, or disparages your parenting abilities from the witness stand. An uncontrolled outburst in response looks bad to the judge, casting a poor light, even when the other parent’s sworn testimony directly attacks your parenting. Any such outburst could undermine your custody strategy for legal decision-making authority and equal parenting time. Violations of courtroom decorum do not go unnoticed. Leave it to your attorney to draw out the facts during cross-examination and on direct when it’s your turn to testify.
Prioritize Your Mental, Emotional, and Physical Health
To be at your best, the challenge is to prioritize mental, emotional, and physical well-being. You need to be cool and level-headed under pressure. Be ready to decide what is in the best interests of the children. Be prepared to strategize your financial future. This means learning proper coping skills.
Avoid falling into the feel-good trap of substance abuse. Self-medicating might offer momentary relief from anxiety, but it quickly drags people down. Anyone with a weakness for drugs or alcohol should seek appropriate support. Why face this lifestyle upheaval alone? Contact your AA or NA sponsor. Do yourself and your case a favor and seek help early on, before things get more stressful.
Have a Plan to Keep Your Family Safe
Of course, parental emotions often run high regarding custody of the children. Any possibility of domestic violence is worrisome. Your safety and your children’s safety should be your first priority. If there is a threat of domestic violence, then take precautionary measures. Know when to call 911 for law enforcement and when to move into an emergency family shelter. Take a moment to read about Orders of Protection in domestic violence cases.
Time Management Helps Minimize Stress
First, specifically allocate time to work on your family law case when you won’t be interrupted. For the best possible outcome in the case, you need to be thoroughly prepared for every meeting with your divorce attorney. Stewart Law Group has office locations throughout the Valley to make attorney consultations easier and less stressful for you.
Second, schedule your time to keep career goals and educational objectives on track. The lifestyle you enjoy after the divorce, along with child support obligations and spousal maintenance awards, depends upon income and resources. When at work, focus on those responsibilities so your job performance does not suffer. Schedule time for coursework if enrolled in college at ASU or elsewhere. Don’t let distress over your divorce derail career objectives.
Third, with everything that’s going on with the divorce, your energy may be tapped at times. Do you have the children with you? Knowing you are under stress, in your everyday parenting be mindful of where your children are and what they are doing at all times. If your children are swimming in the pool, then be there and watch them.
Live the Healthy Lifestyle
Strive daily to achieve good health. Eating well (not binging on junk food), getting regular exercise, sleeping eight hours a night, and dedicating spiritual time will help you manage stress. But if your mental health is declining, then consider professional counseling or therapy.
Are you suffering too much with grief? Do you sleep all the time or have insomnia? Are feelings of guilt, despair, fear, depression, anger, anxiety, or loneliness taking their toll? Take notice of your condition. Listen when friends and family, including your children, tell you that “you’re just not yourself these days.” If close relationships are falling to the wayside, then something is wrong.
5 Tips for Managing Stress in Divorce
Here are five tips to help you cope with the stress of divorce and child custody matters:
1. Open Communications with Your Spiritual Advisor
Open up frequent communications with someone experienced in helping others through these kinds of life challenges. Someone who will listen without being judgmental and can offer mature advice. Talk to a trusted pastor, priest, church elder, or other spiritual advisor trained in assisting families through similar struggles.
2. Enlist Family Members, Friends and Neighbors to Lend a Hand
Pragmatically speaking, separation cuts a family’s domestic labor force by about half. Yet there is still home maintenance, grocery shopping, meal preparation, laundry, housecleaning, doctor visits, after-school activities, and much more to do. (In households where one spouse handled most domestic duties anyway, separation may be a relief.)
Even when the other spouse promises to continue helping, that would be the exception. The spouse who left the marital home has a whole new set of domestic and financial responsibilities – his or her priorities have changed. More likely, the spouse who stays in the marital home will find himself or herself standing in the back yard, coffee mug in hand, wondering how to finish the kitchen remodel, request a raise at work, continue college classes at NAU, and raise three children under the age of 12.
A partial solution? Ask for help from people you know. This won’t make up entirely for the other spouse’s sweat-equity, but most people want to help out where they can (no strings attached). Let them. Reach out to family, co-workers, friends, your church community, and next-door neighbors. Ask for a helping hand with minor home repairs and maintenance, or with picking up the kids from soccer practice while you’re at work. Adjusting to new living arrangements and creating new routines takes time. Accept outstretched helping-hands so your living situation remains stable.
3. Budget Your Time
Become a scheduling guru. Time management is an essential skill, especially when trying to integrate divorce deadlines and court proceedings into an already busy work week. Manage time well so things get done.
During almost every family law case, there are periods of intense activity involving near-daily discussions with your family lawyer. Then there are periods when nothing seems to be happening. Hot and cold, both bring their own special kind of pressure. Budgeting time reduces the stress associated with both busy and slow periods.
If there is little to be done, then prepare for future proceedings. Do not procrastinate. As emotionally draining as it can sometimes be, put time into your case every day. Stay on top of things. Take an hour each day to organize records into files so you can retrieve documents quickly as your attorney requests them.
Calendar upcoming events. Prepare for each phase of the divorce well in advance. Instead of worrying for two months about an upcoming custody hearing, write down your thoughts and concerns. Outline your parenting plan. Think about witness testimony and jot down notes. Prepare. Budget your time. Stay in control. Keep stress levels in check.
4. Create a Monthly Budget
Where there was once a single household budget, separation means there are now two households being maintained on the same income. Money may be tight. There will be legal expenses to pay to attorneys, child custody evaluators, forensic accountants, private mediators, and any other professionals involved in the case. Additionally, the judge may issue interim orders for temporary child support and spousal maintenance. The court may order one spouse (or both) to pay the mortgage, electric bill, and similar debts while divorce is pending, too.
Develop a budget and stick to it. Include all basic living expenses: food, rent or mortgage payments, utilities, telephone, vehicle expenses, insurance, cable or internet service, and so on. Create your budget now to get a fix on current domestic overhead. Be conservative with your funds and resist frivolous spending. Being hounded by creditors and bill collectors, or having to file for bankruptcy after divorce, is certain to increase anxiety. Divorce is stressful enough!
5. Join a Support Group or Consider Counseling
Consider participating in an adult divorce support group. Typically, this is a small group of people who meet regularly in a confidential setting to talk about what “going through divorce” is like for them. People share their day-to-day experiences. They talk about dealing with legal challenges, about parenting time, coping with stress, handling budget constraints, and managing changing circumstances. Knowing you are not alone can be cathartic and therapeutic.
Some level of emotional distress is expected with divorce. But when strong feelings affect your work and your ability to care for your children, then it’s time to reach out for professional help. When you need more than a sympathetic listener, when your feelings are intensely raw and uncontrollable, consider seeking therapy and treatment from a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional.
There are several types of counseling in divorce and family law. Depending upon where things have been and where they are headed, consider family counseling, marriage counseling, and individual divorce counseling.
Divorce counselors, specifically, are mental health professionals who teach coping techniques for managing stress in divorce, helping clients work through the emotional break-up of a marriage. Experienced divorce counselors are knowledgeable of each legal phase of divorce, too, and can advise how legal proceedings will be conducted and how they may impact clients. (For instance, explaining the purpose of a child custody evaluation, why the forensic evaluator interviews both parents, the importance of child development in the evaluator’s analysis, and how to prepare emotionally.)
Practicing Self-Care During Divorce
There is a great deal of decision-making in divorce. Decisions that will affect your financial future and new life as a single person. Determinations must be made for custody and child support, property division, responsibility for debts, payment of spousal support, and so much more. One of many advantages to participating in divorce counseling is being in better emotional shape to make such decisions. Instead of being reactionary, you learn to manage emotions and employ proper coping techniques. This allows you to concentrate and analyze core issues.
Divorce is more than a legal process, it is a time of personal transformation. Be kind to yourself. Eat well and get enough sleep. Exercise to release tension. Have fun. Nurture your emotional and physical self.
Some change will come easily, like finding an alternate route to the office from a new apartment. Some change will come only with great effort, like working through a parenting plan or giving up the marital home. In every divorce there are things that must be let go. Talking to a close friend or spiritual advisor, participating in professional counseling, joining a support group, and practicing wellness each and every day will help you manage stress and prepare for life after divorce.