IT’S OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY
So you are ready for battle.
You have chosen a family lawyer. Letters are beginning to pass back and forth between your, and your partners’, lawyers. You have gathered up a long list of financial documents. Your lawyer has introduced you to a financial planner to begin talking about your future. The legal ‘wheels’ are in motion.
Contributions. Disclosure. Financial statements. Sale of assets. Forensic accountants.
It all begins to get heavy, very quickly.
Letters coming at you like poisoned darts. Further requests for production of documents. Court dates looming. Lawyers asking you for instructions. Bills to pay.
Pretty soon it feels like the waves are crashing down on you. It feels relentless.
And then one day you come to the realisation. I cannot cope with this. I am drowning.
Know that you are not alone if you feel these things. Everyone enduring separation has these moments, whether they admit them or not.
It’s okay not to be okay. What is important is how you deal with that situation.
Accept from an early point in your case that self-preservation is key. Just like they say in safety instruction videos – you must help yourself before you can help others. Without managing ‘you’, you will not get out the other end of your separation intact.
It is therefore about recognising when you are being overcome by the legal ‘waves’, and pausing to get help in negotiating them, rather than being pulled under.
Rule one – you manage the waves
I tell my clients that those waves will come, and to be prepared for them. But they must, like a surfer, choose which waves to ride, and which waves to let pass gently beneath them.
That means being frank with your lawyer when things are getting you down. Your lawyer can then give you a ‘breather’, not bothering you with letters, or asking you for instructions, for a week or so (unless absolutely urgent, or necessary to protect your interests). That time away from the daily grind of the case can keep you energised.
For some clients, lawyers will establish rules which help them ‘cope’ – no letters from the other side are to be sent on Fridays. Emails rather than telephone calls wherever possible so that you can read them in your own time. Meetings in person so that after getting a letter you can instantly hear how it should be handled.
I had a client recently who asked not to be sent any correspondence after 3pm. He said “When I get emails in the late afternoon it plays on mind during the night, and I don’t sleep well. I prefer emails in the morning when I am fresh.” A subtle ‘rule’, but one which was very easily achieved.
These ‘rules’ can be tailored for you, and your daily routine, if you let your lawyer know of your preferences. It means that you are consciously managing the waves, rather than let them batter you, one after the other.
Rule 2 – Get help for you
Remember that lawyers generally do not have social science credentials. They are trained in black letter law, but usually do not have formal skills as counsellors and therapists. In short, they may not be able to help you with everything, including the emotional aspects of your case.
Some days you will feel angry. Some days sad. That may be for a reason unconnected with your case. It may be because of the passing of the first wedding anniversary since separation. It may be just ‘because’. That’s normal.
But sometimes lawyers are so focussed on the legal strategy that they do not observe what is happening with their client. When the waves are crashing down on you, you may be raising your hand for rescue, but you may not be seen by your lawyer.
So tell your lawyer when you are drowning. They will be able to refer you to a counsellor or therapist, who does have the skills to help you with the non-legal issues. Meanwhile, the lawyers will continue to take care of the legal stuff.
If you authorise it, your counsellor can even speak to your lawyer, and tell them what they can do to help you. That might mean giving you a break. It might be a recommendation to deal with a particular issue that is getting your down. It might be to explain things to you in a different way.
There are no wrong answers, and if it will help you get through the experience, your lawyer will be keen to help.
Rule 3 – Let some things through to the keeper
A central part of self-preservation is accepting that not all issues will have legal significance in your case.
Sometimes you will receive a letter from your partner’s lawyer, or read a document prepared for your partner, which you do not agree with. It may be critical of you, or your conduct. You may see it as factually incorrect. Or even an untruth. You may be absolutely outraged when you read it. You may be mortified at the thought of others judging you on that information. You may feel an irrepressible need to set the record straight, or tell your version of events.
Take care here. These waves can be hard to manage. Because they are ‘personal’, they can dunk you. And if you keep fighting them, they can absorb all of your strength.
The reality is, however, that such things may have absolutely no relevance to your case. Your lawyer may tell you that the allegation will be seen as irrelevant by a Judge.
Though you may be smarting at your partner taking a cheap shot at you, you may need to let that wave go.
Instead, save your energy. Ride only the waves that matter in your case. It is only by consciously ‘letting go’ of things that don’t legally ‘matter’ that you will maintain strength sufficient for the entire journey.
It is these little things that can mean that you are negotiating the ‘waves’, rather than letting the waves carry you.