Earlier this week Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise announced that they had reached a settlement in their divorce. When Ms. Holmes filed for divorce it caused quite a ruckus especially since Mr. Cruise was in Iceland shooting a film and about to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. Within eleven days, the parties had reached an agreement. They have not disclosed the details of said agreement. As unfortunate as a quick settlement might have been for the celebrity news organizations, it offers us family law counselors an excellent opportunity for a “teachable moment”.
Plan it. It is clear by the surprise factor and the swiftness of the settlement, that Ms. Holmes did not wake up one morning, hire an attorney, and file for divorce. Extricating yourself from an unhappy marriage does not happen overnight and a little planning goes a long way. No one is necessarily advocating you hire three law firms in three different states and use a disposable mobile phone to put your divorce in motion but planning may help provide some control over the outcome. Many people are reluctant to speak to an attorney until they are served with divorce papers or until a triggering moment occurs (i.e. a domestic violence issue, one party moves out, etc.). If your marriage is worth saving, speaking to an attorney early on will not doom it. Both Elizabeth and I refer clients to marriage therapists. But making decisions in the heat of the moment will have a long term impact on your life, the lives of your children, and your finances.
Make it Quick. I would love to say that the Holmes v. Cruise divorce was quick and painless but since I don’t know them personally I cannot accurately judge their pain. But quick it was. So why is quick good? The longer your case ends up in litigation the worse things get. No matter how much planning you have done, divorce is stressful. People gain weight. They may get depressed. Some even start drinking or develop erratic behavior. A barrier to quick is that parties want to argue about every little possession (i.e. an extension cord in the garage). Focus on your children, valuable assets and the other items that are irreplaceable such as antiques and gifts from your grandmother. The money you save on attorneys and therapists will pay for the replaceable things.
Keep it Private. I would love to get my hands on that settlement agreement. I would love to see Katie Holmes on Anderson Cooper dishing the details of Tom Cruise, Scientology, and why his wives divorce him when they are 33 years old. But I will have to keep my gawking to the B-list celebs of Teen Mom fame. Although most Georgians do not have the paparazzi chasing them, you still should keep your divorce private. Do not publicize your divorce on Facebook. Do not tweet about your spouse on Twitter. Do not blog about the idiocy of their friends. Yes, it may be fun, but it will undo any planning you have done and will not contribute to achieving a swift divorce. If you have children, it will make a spectacle of their lives and that will not play well in front of a Superior Court judge.
If you are thinking about divorce or in the middle of one, we hope that you remember Katie and Tom as your matter progresses. Do some planning, make it quick (and hopefully as painless as possible) and that you keep it between you and your spouse.