by Darin Colburn


My favorite professor in law school used to always say, “How do you build a wall? One brick at a time.” He would repeat this mantra often because law students tend to become overwhelmed by the amount of work and reading required to be successful. They also tend to jump ahead of themselves.

In practice, I found this question to be very useful to my clients. Going through a divorce can be overwhelming, especially if it is contested. It is not uncommon for cases to involve thousands of pages of documents, and dozens of hours of legal work. Instead of thinking about everything that needs to be done before your case can be finalized, it is helpful to stay focused on each item of the checklist individually. In other words, don’t think about the list as a whole.

Start with the first item (your first brick), complete it, and then move onto the next one. Before you know it, the wall will begin to materialize. Of course, as you are going through the process, it is helpful to zoom out on the big picture occasionally to make any necessary adjustments. You will find yourself less stressed, and more effective, if you focus on one thing at a time.

The ‘What’ If Trap

Another pitfall to avoid is the “what ifs” trap. There is a seemingly endless stream of potential “what if” questions that can be explored in any given case:

  • What if I lose my job?
  • What if my ex doesn’t pay the bills?
  • What if my ex doesn’t show up to court?
  • What if my ex flees the country?
  • . .

The reality is that most of the potential “what ifs?” never come to fruition. Moreover, even if they do come to pass, they can be easily addressed at that time. Of course, that’s doesn’t mean you want to ignore or not prepare for what is likely to occur.

For example, in most cases there is little risk that the opposing party is going to flee the country. As such, any time, money, and energy spent troubleshooting that “what if” scenario, would likely be wasted effort. However, if you have reason to believe that your ex is going to flee the country based on specific facts and circumstances supporting that belief, it makes perfect sense to game plan that possibility.

It is important to realize the distinction between a reasonable belief and a fear.   Often clients ask, “what if” questions based on what they are afraid or nervous might occur. If you feel yourself wondering about a certain scenario because you are afraid it might happen, ask yourself why you are afraid it might happen. If you are unsure why you are afraid it might happen, then it is probably not something you want to spend your energy worrying about.

There are very rarely circumstances that cannot be addressed once they arrive. Take for example the question of, “What if I lose my job?” If you lose your job, and you are unable to support yourself or your children while you are looking for a new job, you can ask the court for temporary orders for spousal maintenance and child support.

Even if you already have temporary orders in place, if those orders are based on your full-time employment, you can for a change. However, you cannot ask for temporary orders (or a change) based on a fear that you might lose your job. As such, there is nothing you can do to speed up the court process in anticipation of job loss. You have to actually lose your job because you can file anything with the court. On the other hand, consider the same scenario except that the divorce comes and goes and you maintain your job the whole time. All those nights spent worrying, stressing out about how you would pay your bills, and how it would impact your divorce case, were for naught. While it is great that your fears never came to fruition, they added a lot of unnecessary stress to your life.