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Episode 72 Transcript: Why Your Divorce Moves Slowly

In today’s episode, I wanted to address a question that I think a lot of people struggle with as they are going through a divorce process, and that is, why the process feels like it’s taking so long. Or in fact, forget feels like, why is the process actually taking so much time to resolve? And related to that, what, if anything, can you do to accelerate the divorce process or accelerate the resolution of your divorce? I wanted to share with you my perspective on some of the most common reasons why the divorce process takes a longer time than most people would like and to talk a little bit about those that you can actually do something constructive about as opposed to those that are more out of your control.

Let me start with recognizing what I think may be an obvious issue to many of you, which is that the issues that a divorce covers, specifically reorganizing your entire financial lives and also reorganizing your parenting, they’re big issues, they’re challenging, and they can be complex. Even if it turns out that you and your spouse are actually mostly on the same page about everything, these are still big topics to cover, like how will you organize cash flow between you and your spouse going forward for potentially the next 15 or 20 years, or how will you divide your assets and your debts between you, or how do you foresee parenting from two separate households? They’re not small questions, and so it’s normal, and I think healthy that people take time to really think through and sometimes struggle through how to resolve those questions.

Now, in addition to those questions being important and challenging, you may also have the following additional challenges. Number one, you and your spouse may see the ideal resolution of your financial lives and your parenting roles very, very differently. That is going to add time to the resolution of your divorce process. If you and your spouse are not in agreement or mostly in agreement, it doesn’t mean you won’t resolve your divorce. You will, but it will take more time because you’re coming at the issues from very different places.

Another component that can slow your process down is how quickly, or specifically, how not quickly, how slowly each person is to move away from their ideal resolution towards some kind of compromise resolution with their spouse on a particular topic, be it financial or related to parenting. This is obviously more relevant in a situation in which you and your spouse are in disagreement about a particular topic. If you are, for some couples, one or both of them is able to and willing to move away from their ideal resolution of the issue more to a place of compromise relatively quickly. If that’s not the case, where you and your spouse both remain steadfast in your commitment to your sense of the right way to resolve a particular issue and where those ideas are quite opposed to one another, your process will take a longer time to resolve. So while you don’t have control over or you can’t change how many issues you and your spouse have to resolve in your divorce process and you also can’t change or control how aligned or far apart you are initially on those particular issues, the one thing that you can control is how quickly or not you move from a particular position that you hold that’s quite opposed to your spouse’s to more of a place of compromise, whether it be around a financial issue or a parenting issue.

That said, I know that many clients feel like, “Look, I feel strongly about this issue. It’s not that I don’t want to compromise, but I really see there as only being one correct way to resolve this, and I can’t really move away from this. This is fundamentally important to me. So if it means that my sticking to this position prolongs my divorce process, I’m okay with that.” And that’s fine too. You just want to be making that decision consciously. If you know that you’re in conflict around parenting schedule and that’s really the sticking point in your divorce, and that’s prolonging your divorce process, you want to constantly be asking yourself. Well, at least regularly, maybe not constantly but regularly be asking yourself whether your commitment to your position on the issue and your commitment to not moving to a place of compromise with your spouse or to accepting what your spouse thinks is the ideal resolution of a particular issue, whether that commitment is important enough to you to prolong the divorce process. I don’t pose that as a rhetorical question in any way. I mean that very sincerely. It may be worth it to you, and it may not be, but it’s important to be conscious that your willingness to compromise or not on a particular topic will directly impact the speed with which your divorce process is resolved. That is one thing that you do have control over, although you may assess an issue and say, “This is not something I’m willing to compromise on, and I’m okay if it’s prolonging my divorce process.”

The other issue that I see come up a lot for couples is having differing capacities, or just in general, their capacity to process a lot of the information that’s required of them in order to come to agreements about, in particular, financial topics in the divorce. You and your spouse may and may likely have different abilities to feel comfortable around, to understand, to generate options around, to make decisions about often the financial issues in your divorce. And if one or both of you feels like you are lacking the full capacity to do that in an efficient way that will slow your divorce process. That’s not a bad thing. That’s just a reality of where you are or where your spouse is. But one thing that you can control there is to think about whether or not incorporating or adding of, for instance, a financial professional to your process or having a consultation with a financial professional, be it an accountant or a financial planner, whether that would help improve your or your spouse’s capacity to be engaging in some of the financial conversations that you need to engage in in order to resolve your divorce process.

On the flip side, what I observe to be less helpful in accelerating the process is when spouses do have different capacities especially around engaging in a financial negotiation, for the spouse who feels more comfortable around the finances to just be expressing displeasure at the pace of the process to the spouse who has less capacity around the finances. That’s completely understandable, but more constructive would be to say, “What do we need to get in place for you so that you can feel comfortable talking about income, talking about expenses, talking about assets and debts?” And then also, frankly, if you’re the spouse who’s more comfortable or who has more capacity to process higher-level financial discussions, it’s having a degree of patience with your spouse who has a different capacity, different skillset, and will not be able to move as quickly as you are around financial negotiation.

Another issue that comes up, frankly, is just that people are busy. You and your spouse are busy. You work. You have lives. You parent. Your mediator and/or your attorneys are also busy. They have full caseloads. And so scheduling alone can be challenging. If you’re in court, all the more so. At least in New York City, the court is very oversubscribed, and the judges are handling a lot of cases at one time, and so you’re jockeying for their time and attention effectively.

There’s not a lot that you can do to make things move more quickly in court to control the court schedule, but if you are working outside of the court system with a private mediator or with your individual attorneys, one thing that I notice that can be more helpful is to set concrete deadlines. Each time you meet or each time you have a phone call, get clarity around what the next set of deliverables is. Is it on you? Is it on your mediator or your attorney? Who’s doing what? And come to agreements about when you will share those or exchange those things with each other. This helps hold everybody accountable. Even though you and your divorce professionals, mediator or attorney, are always going to be juggling quite a lot in your schedules, both work and personal, having some kind of set deadline by when to share work product with each other and having clarity around who’s doing what and by when helps hold you accountable and helps things move more quickly rather than just letting them lapse and letting the weeks or months roll by without anything happening on your case. Doing the latter certainly will prolong your divorce process.

Related to that is also each individual party’s or spouse’s motivation for resolving the divorce process. Sometimes spouses are completely aligned. They both want to resolve their divorce process as quickly as possible, or they’re very aligned in really not caring when the process is resolved because it’s just not a priority for them. In which case, you’re probably not interested in this episode. But where couples run into a challenge is where they have differing levels of motivation to finish the divorce process. One of them is quite motivated to have it finish quickly, and the other is really not motivated to have the divorce process finished quickly. That’s not to say that the other spouse is necessarily motivated to prolong the process. It’s just that, in a way, going through a divorce is somewhat like having another part-time job, and it does require a lot of you. If you are not motivated to finish the process, you will just not be prioritizing it over the other things you have to do in your life, and that will mean that the work you’re required to do, it will happen more slowly. When you need to give feedback or review something, it will happen more slowly. That will expand the amount of total time needed to resolve your divorce.

Finally, I think there’s just a reality to the fact that the changes that accompany a divorce are big life changes and those take time. It’s healthy for them to take time. Most people cannot process multiple giant changes in their lives all at once. So, almost out of some psychological necessity, divorce moves gradually. That’s not a bad thing. It’s more finding a balance and a happy medium between a process that doesn’t feel too, too accelerated but also doesn’t feel too, too slow and like it’s not going anywhere.

The take-home is that for most couples, I would say, their divorce process moves at a pace that is slower than both of them would like. There are reasons for that that you can control or that you can impact, and there are reasons for that that you can’t have a lot of constructive impact on. The ones you want to focus on are, number one, if you want the process to move quickly, are you prioritizing it over other things in your life, making time for it? Number two, when you’re working with other people, with a mediator, with attorneys, and with your spouse, having clarity around what your deliverables are, what your homework is, when you are getting a particular work product back to someone, whether it be the professionals or to your spouse by. Having clarity around those things helps hold people accountable and helps you move more quickly through the process. Also, being willing to compromise. Where you and your spouse are in disagreement about a particular issue, being willing to move off of your position to some place of compromise with your spouse will accelerate the resolution of your process. Finally, where you or your spouse feels like you don’t have the skill, the capacity to process often some of the more complex financial discussions, figuring out what kind of professional support would put you in a place where you can process those discussions is a productive way to accelerate your divorce process or to not let it lag around that particular issue.

If you’re feeling like your divorce is moving more slowly than you would like, think about all the issues that I’ve mentioned and try to assess. In your particular situation, what is the holdup, or more often, what are the holdups? Think about those that you can do something about and act on those. For those that you cannot do something about, for instance, your spouse’s willingness to prioritize this process over other things that he or she needs to do, I would not burn a lot of goodwill or energy in trying to control that. You can maybe make an attempt once, but if you don’t find that it’s effective, then you want to let go of the parts that you can’t control and focus on the parts that you can. That will help you constructively accelerate the divorce process as much as possible in your situation.

That was a quick overview of a couple of the reasons that may be at play if you are wondering why your divorce is taking so long to resolve and a couple of tips in terms of what you can do to move your divorce process along more efficiently. I hope it was helpful.

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