You Deserve Peace: Interview with Divorce Attorney Karen Covy

Karen Covy, divorce attorney, advisor, and coach, gives some practical advice for how and why you should let go of your anger after going through a difficult divorce. Unfortunately there is no such thing as 'emotional justice'. Let go of your idea of what feels ‘unfair’ and invite in healing and happiness.

 

When people have gone through divorce they often become fixated on what's 'fair' — what are some problems you see with this understanding of how things should be? 

The problem with wanting what is “fair” in divorce is that there is no single definition of “fair” that applies the same way to everyone in every case. What you think is “fair” may be very different from what your spouse thinks is “fair.”  When you add in what the judge, and the lawyers, think is fair, you inevitably end up with at least one person who thinks that whatever happened in a particular case is terribly unfair.

The other problem with becoming fixated on what is “fair” is that, on a fundamental level, divorce is never fair.  Nothing about divorce is fair.

Is it fair that the marriage that you thought would last a lifetime just imploded? Is it fair that you may have to get a job when you gave up your career years ago to take care of the kids and your skills are now outdated? Is it fair that you may have to continue to support your ex for years after your divorce is finalized just because you earn more money than s/he does? Is it fair that your kids will now come from a broken family?

None of that is fair. Life isn’t fair. You can either accept that, and learn to understand that your idea of “fair” is just YOUR idea, or, you can cling to the idea that you are entitled to get what you believe is fair in your divorce, and not settle for anything less.

The problem with taking the latter approach is that it encourages you to fight. Sometimes, fighting makes sense. Sometimes you have to fight or you will get steam rolled. But, when you fight, your spouse gets defensive. Then your spouse fights, which makes you get defensive. And on and on it goes until you are both exhausted, and don’t have enough money or energy left to give either one of you what you thought was fair.

When women go through a divorce, what are some ways you see them disempower themselves?

Women often feel a power imbalance in divorce.  I know this is a stereotype, but many times the woman is less financially savvy than her husband. She may have never dealt with attorneys before. She may not have been responsible for getting the couple’s taxes done. She feels like her husband is way ahead of her in dealing with the financial aspects of divorce.

The truth is – she may be right! If she wasn’t the one paying the bills, or managing the money, she may not have the same expertise in that area as her husband. What matters, though, is that she admits to herself that she is at a disadvantage, and then gets the knowledge she needs to get up to speed.

The mistake so many women make is that they think that just because their husband knows more than they do about finances, that they are doomed. So they turn their case over to their lawyers and just expect the lawyer to do what is right for them.

You can’t do that! It doesn’t matter that you don’t know anything about finances.  You’re alive. You can learn!

Like it or not, this is your divorce and your life.  You need to take control of both, starting right now! While getting the right experts (lawyers, coaches, and financial experts) is critically important, that doesn’t mean that once you have hired some professionals you can abandon all responsibility for understanding what they are doing, or how the choices that you are making right now may play out in the future.

The other thing you have to remember is that your lawyer is being paid by the hour. The more you fight and the longer the case drags on, the more money the lawyer makes. While many divorce lawyers are really trying to do what they believe is best, and not milk your case for money, many others have no problem letting you fight, as long as you are paying the bill.

You have to educate yourself. You have to learn and understand how the divorce system works, how your finances work, and what your choices are. That doesn’t mean you have to get a law degree or become a certified financial planner.  It does mean that you have to understand your divorce enough that you can make the best choices for yourself and your kids.

Finally, what you need to realize is that how you go through your divorce matters. If you give up your power during the divorce process, it will only be that much harder for you to reclaim your power once the divorce is done. If you start taking control of your life while the divorce is in process (even though you think you can’t do it!) you will start building your confidence, and building your abilities. Once your divorce is over, you will be in a much better place.

You've worked with couples through years of court and mediation — what are some recurring patterns you've seen in people that can't let go of their bitterness? 

When people can’t let go of their bitterness, they become stuck in a pattern of anger and discontent that infects everything else in their lives.  They blame their spouse for every bad thing that ever happened to them. They poison themselves, and often their kids, too, with venom. What’s worse, anger like this can literally last a lifetime.  

It is extremely difficult for someone who is bitter to settle a case because typically nothing satisfies them.  Even if they were to get all of the money they wanted, or all of the “stuff,” or even custody of the kids, they still would not be happy.  That’s because what they are looking for is not the money or the stuff or even the kids. They are looking for emotional justice – and that is the one thing that divorce courts almost never provides. (Sorry!)

What is really a shame is when a bitter spouse uses the kids (even adult children) to get back at their ex. They poison their children’s relationship with their ex and force the kids to take sides. What they don’t realize is that their kids deserve to have a relationship with both of their parents. When kids are forced to choose between their parents, it hurts the kids.

We all know of people who are still so bitter over their divorce that years (or even decades) after it is over the kids can’t invite both of their parents to the same family event without starting a war.  That’s sad. That doesn’t benefit anyone.

What if it's been years since your divorce and you never made your 'divorce plan'? What are some ways to reframe the way you see your divorce and your ex?

Reframing the way you see your divorce and your ex takes time, effort, and desire.  You can’t reframe anything unless you first want to do it.  While we all would love to believe that healing and happiness “just happen,” the truth is that before either one can happen, you have to invite them in.

It is so easy to let yourself become a victim when you are going through a divorce – especially if you weren’t the one who wanted the divorce in the first place. It is all too easy to become bitter when your divorce is over and you didn’t get what you wanted, or when the divorce court didn’t deliver the “justice” you thought it should. (Expecting “justice” is the same as expecting everything to be “fair.” It rarely happens.)

Yet, letting bitterness and anger over your divorce infect the rest of your life is the ultimate loss. It is a far greater loss than whatever else you lost in your divorce.  Why? Because divorce, even the most horrible divorce, is over in a few years. But the anger, bitterness, and distrust you feel after your divorce has no time limit. What’s even worse is that is entirely self-inflicted.

Many people are reluctant to forgive their spouse for whatever wrongs occurred in their marriage, and in their divorce. What those people don’t realize is that forgiveness is not about their ex.  Forgiveness is about them.

You don’t have to forgive someone because they deserve it. Maybe they don’t deserve it. That’s not the point. You forgive someone because you deserve peace.

Does your ex care that you are still hopping mad about how he cheated you out of what you rightly deserved in your divorce? No. He probably doesn’t care. He is not the one who is so angry over the divorce that he can’t have a good time on a date with another person. His blood pressure is not rising when you are ranting and raving about what a jerk he is. Your anger does not affect him at all.  But, it does affect you. (Plus, it might also affect your kids.)

Hanging on to negative emotions after divorce hurts you.  It hurts you a lot, and can hurt you for a long time.  But you have the power and ability to forgive your ex, forgive yourself, and ultimately, let go of those emotions.

Does that mean that you should just excuse your ex’s bad behavior? No. Whatever your ex did may have been wrong, and it will always be wrong. You don’t have to forget what happened. But you will feel a lot better if you can learn to forgive.

What's some advice you have for women who are facing financial difficulty due to a divorce and may have been out of the workforce for many years? 

The most important advice I have is to start now! Wherever you are at in your divorce, don’t wait to start retraining yourself and making plans for your future. Whether you are just thinking about divorce, in the middle of a divorce, or done with your divorce, you need to start thinking about how you will support yourself after your divorce as soon as possible.

A lot of lawyers will encourage a woman who has been out of the workforce for years to stay out of the work force until her divorce is over so that she can get the maximum amount of alimony possible.  I think that is a mistake. After your divorce is over you are going to be responsible for supporting yourself. The sooner you can start taking steps toward doing that, the sooner you are likely to become financially stable.

Another thing you need to keep in mind is that once you are on your own you will need to make enough money to pay all of your expenses. In order to know whether you will be able to do that, you need to make a budget. You need to know how much money you will have coming in each month, and how much money will be going out.

Supporting yourself requires you to be realistic.  If you will be getting alimony for a few years so that you can get back on your feet, you need to start retraining yourself and getting whatever degrees or skills you need to survive now.  Don’t spend the first few years coasting because you assume that you will be able to pull something out at the end. That’s a risky bet.

You also need to be practical.  While you may think that becoming a real estate agent would be great because it will give you the flexibility to be with your kids more, actually making money as a real estate agent takes a lot of time, effort and work – often more work than a traditional 9 to 5 job. If you are not ready to work nights and weekends, then being a real estate agent is not likely to provide you with the income you need to sustain yourself once your alimony has run out.

 

 

Karen Covy is a divorce attorney, advisor, and coach who is committed to helping couples resolve their disputes as amicably as possible. She is the author of When Happily Ever After Ends: How to Survive Your Divorce Emotionally, Financially, and Legally. Karen is also a mediator, arbitrator, collaborative divorce lawyer, and a former adjunct law professor.

Karen is a popular speaker and has been featured on the Channel 7 News, WCIU You and Me This Morning, and on numerous radio shows. She writes and publishes extensively on divorce and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Divorced Moms, Divorce Force, and Your Tango, as well as on her own website at www.karencovy.com.