On the day we get married we all hope for “happily ever after.” We don’t plan to get divorced and it is something most of us try desperately to avoid. But, when it is staring us in the face, we would be wise to consider the consequences of such a decision, be they financial or emotional. Caught up in the distress of the collapse of a relationship which we thought was forever, there are four vital aspects to heed: children caught in the middle; the division of assets, family and friends on the sidelines and our own emotional wellbeing. This article aims to encourage couples to look, before they leap into the divorce courts, at the cost to them and those around them.

Our wedding day, for most of us, is the most joyous of days, with the fairytale ending of “happily ever after” being the ultimate goal. Divorce is something that happens to other people and it is certainly not something for which we plan. But when a marriage does end up in the divorce courts the consequences go way beyond the D-decision.

There are four main kinds of division that occur as a result of the parting of ways. Most couples caught up in the chaos focus fiercely on the division of the assets – something that is all too often coloured by great emotion and distress. Family and friends are observers on the sidelines, while the children become the pawns on the chessboard of life.

These are the pitfalls to be aware of:

Money talks

The division of your assets will depend mainly on what kind of marriage contract you signed. If you are married in community of property, all assets and liabilities will be split. An antenuptial contract, drawn up prior to a wedding, will reflect the decisions made specifically for that contract. It is wise if there is a lot of anger and pain not to head too hastily to the divorce courts, but to rather wait for cooler heads. The only winners here are, more often than not, the lawyers who fight the battles that can become very ugly, costly and protracted. Ensure your contract covers not only maintenance around the children, but where possible, considers the rest of your lifestyle. Divorce is an expensive affair, as instead of the pooling and sharing that occurs within a marriage, there are often now two homes and dual expenses.

Consider the children

Where children are involved, this ups the ante dramatically. Do everything in your power to evade the all-too-common trap of using them to force issues with your ex. At the time your children were conceived, chances are the plan was they would grow up with two mature parents in a stable, loving home. Now that story seems to have been rewritten somewhat, and the children are potentially the biggest losers. Remember, no matter how painful or how despairing you feel, you need to be the adult in this situation. The aim of a parent should not change: to be the primary nurturer and educator and to raise caring, healthy, balanced individuals who can make a success of their future lives and relationships. You have to set the example. Decisions about where they will be and how their time will be split between parents can be extremely distressing for them: ensure you put their interests first rather than feeding personal agendas.

The ties that bind

Family and friends feel the pain of a divorce in a deep and challenging way. Through life we build long-term relationships with those close to us. Marriage adds a whole new dimension: we introduce in-laws and new friends to our lives and, often through a divorce, many of those closest to us feel they need to choose sides. The pain and anger brings out conversations and battles that cause rifts that can last a lifetime. If you are contemplating a divorce, it is vital to understand that there are not only two people involved but rather the entire network of people in the inner circle of your life. Tread with care and value those whom you love – and love you.

Heal yourself

The emotions that surface through a divorce are visible and painful. The grief cycle exposes us to denial, anger, shock, rejection, acceptance and (one hopes) forgiveness.

This is, however, not a given. Many individuals who do not give time and energy to this process, merely bury the unresolved pain deep within. This can surface in many ways over the years. It can reflect in raised stress levels, depression, or even diseases such as cancer and heart ailments years later. Those closest to us are often battered by emotional baggage with which we have not dealt.

Take the time to heal after a divorce. Try and work through the pain and the issues that may have led to it. It is advisable to not get back into a new relationship until you have healed. Become a whole, well-rounded human being who can live a complete life, even if that means being alone. The chances of a future marriage lasting can be enhanced through this personal journey.

Look after yourself

Whether you’re married or single, do take ownership of your own long-term financial future. This ensures a better chance of your life story being planned and designed instead of being the victim of a bitter blame-game after a divorce. Have your own investment policies that, on maturity, should be shared with the one you love. If your story doesn’t read this way, at least you can be assured of money in the bank years down the line.

There is much to be said for growing together with someone, and to sharing a long and fulfilling life. There may well be times and circumstances when divorce may be the best option. But that is not always true. It could be that your feelings of restlessness and boredom have little to do with your spouse, and much to do with other aspects of your life. If you feel the grass is greener on the other side, remember you are taking yourself along with you. Make sure you like what you see (don’t forget to look in the mirror!) and look carefully before you leap.