Saturday, February 5, 2011

Responding If Your Spouse Files For Divorce

Do I have to respond to the divorce petition?

If your spouse files for divorce, you will receive a copy of the divorce papers within a few days.  They will contain instructions for your response, and a date by which you should respond.

Failing to respond by that date would be a big mistake!

In most places, that means you give up your right to have a say, and what your spouse says goes.  You may be able to file for an extension if you need more time, but your response may not take a long time to prepare.  You will have at least a few weeks;  in some US states you have up to 90 days.

In some places, the time allowed for your response begins when the papers are served.  Be sure you know when your response is due, and file it before then!

What do I need to submit as my response to the divorce petition?

The form of the response is similar to the document filed by the other party, and also often contains complaints or accusations against the party who filed first.  You will want to read what the other party filed very carefully, and clearly point out in your response any false information in what the other party said.

You should include basic information that you think is important;  if you leave something out, you may not be able to talk about it later.  For example, if your spouse filed a divorce petition saying that neither party should receive financial support from the other, and if you don’t say anything about that in your response, you may be giving up your right to ask for alimony (“spousal maintenance”) or child support later.

So be sure to briefly mention the things you think are important, but also be careful not to make any accusations you can’t back up with evidence.  Making a lot of accusations might make you look unreasonable, and in some places it is against the law to make false accusation on official papers.  Your response, like your spouse’s petition, is a sworn document, so making any false statements can have serious consequences.

Do I need a lawyer?

This is a good time to consider whether you should have a lawyer.

You can probably manage your divorce without a lawyer if your spouse doesn’t have one;  and if there is not a lot of money involved;  and if you don’t have kids or if you agree about custody.

You should probably get a lawyer if your spouse has one;  or if there is a lot of money at stake;  or if you have kids with the other party, and you both don’t agree how custody should be handled.

These matters are usually handled by a “family law” attorney.  But if your spouse has included any criminal accusations in his petition, you might want to also consult a criminal defense attorney about those issues.

What should I tell my attorney?
This is also a good time to think carefully about what your objectives are, and to communicate them clearly to your attorney.  If your attorney doesn't accept your objectives and give you a good plan - but not a guarantee - to achieve them, then you may not be compatible.

Some types of objectives to consider include:

* Custody.  If you have minor children, think carefully about what you believe would be best for them.  Take into account "legal custody" - who will make decisions about medical, educational, and religious matters - and "residential" custody - where will the kids live most of the time.

Examples of a custody objective might be "I think we can share legal custody but I should have primary residential custody, with my ex having the kids two nights every other weekend" or "I should have full legal custody but we can have 50/50 residential custody til the kids are ready for school, and then I should have them every weeknight and my ex every weekend night."

* Financial - child support, alimony ("spousal maintenance") and division of assets.  Most US states have guidelines as to who should pay how much child support and alimony, and also guidelines for the division of assets.  Some things are negotiable within reason.  You might tell your attorney, "I want to keep the house but I would be willing to give her half the equity in it if I can have half the value of her 401k." or "I need to get at least $500 a month in alimony for at least four years so I can finish my degree." for example.

* Timing.  We all want the divorce to be over soon, but setting an aggressive goal to have it over too quickly might weaken your negotiating position;  you might end up giving too much on your other objectives in order to settle quickly.  One way to deal with this is to tell your attorney to file immediately for a trial date, and get it set as soon as possible - probably within a few months.  That way, you have an end date to the process, and both sides will have a motivation to come to an agreement soon, to avoid the risk and cost of a trial.

Additional information
Here is an article with more details about how this process works in the US:

I am not an attorney, and I can't give legal advice.  The information here is based on my own experience going through a divorce in one US state, and on what I have read and learned from others who have been through a divorce with a BPD sufferer.

Serving The Papers

Once you file for divorce, the papers have to be “served” – that is, officially delivered – to the other party.

When this is done, the court will know that your spouse received the papers, and he will have a limited amount of time in which to respond.

Who will serve the papers?

If you are using an attorney, she can arrange for the papers to be served.  Most lawyers work with process servers.  You will be charged for this service but you won’t have to do anything.

Another option, in some places, is to send the papers by certified mail.

In some places the police or sheriff will do it, at no cost or for a small fee.

As a courtesy to your spouse, you might offer him the option to come and pick up the papers, and sign for them, at your attorney’s office.  That way, your spouse will be spared the embarrassment of being served at home or at work.  Your attorney will probably not charge for this service;  her receptionist can handle it in just a few minutes.

You may also have the option of serving the papers yourself, and asking your spouse to sign for them.  That's probably not the right choice, if your spouse has BPD, because he may get upset and act out in some way.  It's better to have it done by a professional.

How will my spouse react?

If your spouse has BPD or another disorder, you might want to consider how he might react when he is served.  If you are still living together, will he get upset or even violent?  Will he accuse you of things or start a smear campaign against you?  It may be wise to arrange it in such a way that another adult will be around to make sure things go OK.

You might want to tell your spouse that he will be served soon, if that will help him react better to the news.  (Make sure to tell him in a matter-of-fact way, and not to hurt him or "win".)

In any case, consider what you can do to protect yourself in case your spouse gets upset.  If you are living together, try to avoid contact.  Have a separate room with a lock where you can sleep.  Keep your keys and wallet or purse with you, or near the door.  Have an overnight bag in the trunk of your car, and know where you can go if you need to spend the night away from home.

Let someone know if you are concerned about your spouse's behavior so you can call and ask for help without too much explanation:  "I told him and he's upset.  Can you come over?" or "It didn't go well - can I come over there?"

Should I tell the kids?
If you have kids together, you might want to let them know, in an age-appropriate way, so they don’t hear it first from your spouse, who might present it to them in an unfair or inappropriate way.

Consider talking with a counselor who can help you figure out the best way to talk to the kids about the divorce.

Make sure you tell them what will be helpful to them and not what you need to get off your chest.

Keep it simple and true.  Be ready for their questions but don't flood them with too much information they can't handle.

Additional resources
Here is a site with more details about having divorce papers served:

Here is a site with information for each US state:

I am not a lawyer, and I can't give you legal advice.  The information here is based on my own experience going through a divorce in one US state, and on what I have read and learned from others who have been through a divorce with a BPD sufferer.

Filing For Divorce

The purpose of this article is to raise a number of questions about a very stressful step – filing for divorce – and give some basic answers.

The process is different in each state and country.  You can find more specifics by looking online for how things work where you live.

Is it important who files first?

In most US states, it makes no difference who files for divorce.  One party files, and the other party can respond;  the only way things are different is if the second party fails to respond, so the party who filed gets what they want by default.

In a few US states, there are some advantages to filing first.  You can find out by looking online or calling an attorney.

Where should I file?

Usually, you can file in the country, state, and county where you live, unless you moved there very recently.  States have different residency requirements;  most common in the US is six months.  And some states have different rules if one or both parties are in the US military.

You can look up the residency requirements for your state here:

What forms do I need?

Usually you can get the forms at your local courthouse.

Some counties have the forms available online, or you can call your local courthouse.

Do I need an attorney?

In most US locations you can file for divorce without an attorney.

There may be a fee to file the papers – usually between $20 and $200.

The people who work at the courthouse may answer simple questions, but can’t give you legal advice.

You might consider filing without an attorney if your marriage was short;  and if there are no kids from the marriage;  and if you don’t have a lot of money to fight over.

You probably need an attorney if there is a lot of money at stake;  or if you have children and don’t agree on custody;  or if the marriage was more than a few years, so there might be a significant alimony issue.

How do I find an attorney?

In most places you can find attorneys online – search “Family law attorney Chicago” if you live in the Chicago area, for example – or in the phone book.

Talk to more than one before choosing.  You can ask for a free initial consultation, or the attorney may require a fee – usually less than $200 for a half hour.  The attorney may ask for a retainer – commonly $1,000 to $5,000 – but you don’t have to give that until you are sure you want this attorney to represent you.

You also don’t have to decide whether you want to file for divorce before talking to an attorney; you can put off that decision until you are sure it’s what you want to do.

Which attorney is best?

•   Choose an attorney who can show you, through examples – like “war stories” – that she has experience in cases where the other party has a mental illness or behavioral disorder.  “Can you give me an example of how you dealt with someone who did not behave rationally a lot of the time?”  Judge whether the attorney is talking from experience – does she give specifics, like when the case was?  Or only generalities?  (But you don’t need to hear real names that would violate someone's confidentiality.)

•   If you can find an attorney who knows about BPD that will be a big advantage.

•   If you read “Splitting” by William A. Eddy, you will be more prepared to evaluate whether an attorney understands your situation;  you can compare her approach with what the author recommends and decide if this attorney’s approach is what you need.

•   Tell the attorney a little about your spouse’s behavior and see if she seems to believe you.  If she is sceptical, that may mean she has never encountered someone like your spouse and won’t know how to deal with your spouse’s behavior.

•   Ask how the divorce process works in your location and see if you get a clear answer.

•   Are you able to communicate well with her – does she understand what you tell her and do you understand what she tells you?  Do you feel heard and believed?  Do you get clear answers or “blah-blah-blah”?

•   Does she seem to make clear plans or “wing it”?

•   People with BPD often cause delays.  Some attorneys cooperate with this in order to maintain good relationships with the other party’s lawyer – “professional courtesy”.  Ask if she would be willing to consult you before agreeing to delays proposed by the other side.  (But sometimes the delays are caused by the court and nothing can be done about it.)

•   Ask about the likely cost of the case and see if you get an answer you can live with.

•   Some attorneys respond quickly to clients’ questions and some don’t.  It can add to your stress if you don’t get answers, as the case goes forward over many months. Ask if you can expect an answer to your phone calls and e-mails within 24 hours.

•   It’s important that you have confidence in your attorney.  Give your “gut feel” some attention – which attorney do you believe you can work closely with and trust?

Here are some more tips:

What should I tell the attorney?

Before talking with the attorney, consider what your objectives are, and be ready to explain them clearly.

For example, if you want to finish the divorce quickly, you can ask what is realistic if the other party is cooperative, and how long it might take if not.

Your objectives might also include the cost of the divorce – legal fees and other costs – “I need this to be done within a year and to cost less than $10,000” for example.

You may have an objective related to custody, like “I am OK with joint legal custody but I want primary residential custody.”

You may have objectives related to how assets are split:  “I want to keep the house and have at least $10,000 in cash.”

You may have an objective related to child support and/or alimony (often called “spousal maintenance”):  “I need to get at least $1,000 a month, for at least four years, so I can finish my degree.” or “I am willing to pay child support up to $400 a month til the kids are 18 but not alimony.” for example.

Stay away from objectives that are emotional – “I need closure!” – or that will look like you are meddling in the other party’s business – “I want him to get the help he needs!”  These may be valid, but the courts don’t view it as their job.

If you clearly state your objectives to each attorney, you can get feedback about whether they are realistic or not – “Based on your income and your husband’s income, you can expect child support but not alimony” or “Your divorce can be finished within a year if the other side cooperates but if they drag their heels it could take up to two years.”

Many attorneys work hard to lower clients’ expectations, right from the start, so they will be able to meet those expectations later.  By talking with a few lawyers, you can judge who is giving you realistic feedback about your goals, and who is focusing too much on lowering your expectations instead of meeting them.

What do I need to include when I file?

This varies a lot from state to state and even from county to county.  In some places, you just fill out the form with information about yourself, your spouse, and any children involved;  most places also require some basic financial information.  There may be one or more questions about domestic violence.  If there are children involved, there may be questions about custody, such as whether the children have been abused by either party.

It is important to understand that your petition for divorce is a sworn document, and there can be penalties for false statements.  If you are not sure what to include, consult an attorney to make sure you are doing it correctly.  For example, you may be required to say if there has been any violence or abuse of the kids, but be careful not to make accusations that are unfair.

Read carefully the instructions provided by the court, and attach all the documents required.  It may be OK to say you can’t find them all, or to provide estimates if you don’t have exact information.

Should I tell my spouse I’m going to file for divorce?

If your spouse has BPD or a similar problem, he may react badly if he even suspects you might file for divorce.  People with BPD are often afraid of abandonment.  That may lead to violence or threats, or some other form of attack against you, like telling others bad things about you.

Consider how to protect yourself before telling your spouse you are going to file for divorce.  For example, it may be best to stay with someone during this time, or to be prepared to leave home quickly if your spouse gets upset.  You may want to have an adult third party present, or to do it in a public place, in case he reacts badly or makes false accusations.

Find out when and how your spouse will be informed by the court – whether the papers will be served to him for example – and decide whether it is best to tell him yourself or let him find out that way.

What if he reacts badly?

It is not your responsibility to protect your spouse from this difficult experience – you will have plenty to do, taking care of yourself and making sure your kids are OK.  But someone with a psychological disorder may “act out”, so you should be prepared for what he might do.

For example, he may become violent.  Here are some ways you can reduce that risk:

•   Have another adult present when you tell him, or tell him in a public place.  (But don’t use your kids as “buffers”.)

•   Have someplace arranged where you can go if he reacts badly.  For example, tell a close friend you might need to stay with her for the night.

•   Have an overnight bag packed and in your trunk just in case.

•   Have your keys and credit cards with you or near the door.

•   Make sure you are able to get out the door without being blocked, and your car isn’t blocked by his.

Another risk is that your spouse might make false accusations;  he might become agitated and claim that you physically abused him or the kids.  If you see him becoming upset, consider leaving until you know he is calmer.  Avoid any physical contact with him, or being alone with him, while he is upset.

Should I tell my kids?  When?  How?

Consider talking to a counselor, or having your kids see a counselor, a few times before deciding this.

Make sure what you tell each child is “age-appropriate” and is what the child needs to know, not what you want to talk about.  For example, a young child does not need to know legal or financial details, only what things will be like for him – where he will be living and how often he will see each parent.

Some counselors suggest that you talk with each child alone, so that child can react in his own way, and not be too affected by how his brother or sister take the news.

Some counselors also suggest that both parents tell the kids together, but when one parent has a psychological disorder it is sometimes recommended that the other parent take responsibility for telling the kids.  If you do it by yourself, make sure you are fair, and focus on the impact on the kids, not on making yourself look good at the expense of the other party.

Think through what your kids are likely to ask, and be ready with simple and true answers.  Make sure you only answer what they are asking, and don’t wander into other aspects that might make them feel more uncertain.  Remember, kids’ top need is a feeling of security, and this is a time of transition;  you need to project strength so your kids will have confidence that everything will be OK (even though you know it’s not that easy).

It can help if you are prepared to establish the “new normal” – how things will be now – so the transition from how things were before is quick and solid.  For example, if you are going to move out, it may be best to have that mostly arranged, so there isn’t a long period of uncertainty about that.

Here are some more ideas about how to do this:

What if the other party files first?

If your spouse files for divorce, you may be served the papers – that is, they may be delivered to you formally by a process server – which can be embarrassing if it happens at work.  If you know that your spouse is filing, you can arrange to go to the courthouse or his lawyer’s office, and pick up the papers, to avoid that drama.

It can feel like an attack when your spouse files for divorce.  Get some support from family and friends.  Read the documents carefully, but if there are accusations, don’t take it too personally;  some people, especially those with a psychological disorder, use this process as an opportunity to vent their feelings.

But do make note of any false statements or accusations contained in the papers, and think about how you can show evidence that they are false.  Also, consider whether such statements in official documents may be a violation of the law;  for example, in some US states, it is illegal to make false criminal accusations.  You may want to find out how to file criminal or civil charges, to hold the other party accountable if he has made false accusations.

In the papers you receive, you will be told when and how you need to respond.  Failing to respond the right way – filing the right papers – and by that date, will mean that you give up your right to respond, and what the other party said goes.  So it is critical that you respond on time and completely!


Here is a listing of the forms needed in most US states:

Here is a more thorough explanation of how the divorce process works in the US:

Here is a site about all aspects of divorce:

And California has a self-help site with a ton of good information:

I am not an attorney, and I can't give legal advice.  The information here is based on my own experience going through a divorce in one US state, and on what I have read and learned from others who have been through a divorce with a BPD sufferer.

The Decision To Divorce

The marriage may have been failing for a long time, but something caused one party to decide that it should end.

It may have been finding out that the other party was unfaithful, or seeing the other party acting out against the kids.  Often it is an incident of domestic violence, or a false accusation.

Here are some links to resources describing some of the events that can lead to divorce:

I asked some people I know who have been through a divorce from a BPD sufferer, "What was the last straw, and what did you learn from that experience?"

Here’s what they said…

So what was the straw that broke the back of your marriage?

1.   The other party left

The marriage is not healthy but you both seem to be committed to making it work.  Then the other party leaves, and you realize you can’t fix it alone.

Marriages involving a person with BPD often end this way;  the disordered person is just as likely to leave as the other party.  We often hold onto hope that the marriage can be saved – that marriage counseling can help, or that the person with BPD or another problem will get help.  Their decision to leave rather than do that work can tell us that our hope isn’t realistic.

2.   An affair

You find out the other party has been cheating and that ends trust.

If it’s the “first straw” – the only betrayal – and if both parties are willing to work on the marriage, the marriage can survive.  If you feel no confidence that this will be the last time – if it’s part of a pattern of destructive behavior and there is no commitment to change – you may not be willing to continue in the marriage.

3.   Domestic violence

You no longer feel safe or loved.

Abuse tends to escalate.  When you see it as a pattern, with no end in sight, you may decide that you must make a change.

A good first step is to focus on your safety, and the safety of the kids if you have them.  You can find a safe place and a plan to get there, and then consider divorce or other options.

4.   A pattern of abuse

Physical, verbal or emotional abuse becomes too much to take any more.

You find your own limits and see no way to change your situation as long as you stay in the marriage.

5.   A pattern of dishonesty

You lose hope that trust can ever be rebuilt.

6.   Abusive behavior or neglect toward kids

You can take it – you’re an adult – but you can’t put your child at risk any more.

7.   False accusations

Staying in the marriage will put you at too much risk.

8.   Mishandling money

You find out about extreme spending or financial dishonesty.

One man I spoke to said that when he and his wife had to move because of his career, and filled out the paperwork to sell their house, his wife claimed credit card debt almost as high as his annual income!  She had done all their financial paperwork for years, and he had no idea they had so much debt.  That convinced him that the marriage couldn't work.  (And he later found out there was much more debt she hadn't disclosed.)

9.   Parental alienation

The other party is turning your child against you.

A pattern of alienation can be very hard to deal with once it is well-established.  Richard Warshak’s book “Divorce Poison” gives some practical ways to spot it and deal with it.

10.   Drugs

You won’t stay with someone who is abusing alcohol or other drugs.

Substance abuse is common among people with BPD, and many of us who have been in a relationship with a BPD sufferer have a tendency toward co-dependence;  we feel the need to “save” people.  This makes for a powerful but dysfunctional relationship;  we are attracted to each other for the wrong reasons, and neither of us is getting healthier.  Situations like this tend to get worse over time, and you may decide you can’t deal with it any more before the other party decides to get clean and sober.

11.   Suicidal behavior

You can’t cope with someone who is self-destructive.

12.   Not following through on therapy

Therapy is essential to make the marriage work but the other party is choosing not to do the work.

13.   A disturbing decision

Making a destruction choice shows you that the other party can’t be a good partner.  For example, one woman I spoke to was convinced her husband was not stable when he suddenly quit his job and lost his health insurance, which they needed because of his poor health.

14.   Emotionally “over”

You just can’t imagine being connected to this person again.

One woman told me that her husband's tantrums always bothered her, until one day they just didn't any more, and she knew that she had become so emotionally distant from him - so used to his abuse - that it no longer mattered to her.

If you were to go through that experience again, what would you do differently?

1.   Face the facts

We tend to ignore small things early in the relationship - little red flags - because we are getting something we like - companionship, warmth, sex - and we don't want to lose it.  

Over time the other party's behavior may get worse.  We ignore it, or make excuses;  our skin gets thicker.  We don't tell anybody what is going on - lying by omission.

2.   Plan better for telling the kids

I was hurt and upset.  I wanted to be honest.  When my daughter, then 10, asked me – just a day after the unplanned separation – if we were getting a divorce, I told her the truth as I believed it at that moment:  “Yes I think we are.”  We were talking over the phone – I hadn’t seen her since the situation melted down.

It was a big mistake.  I should have told her, “I don’t know.” or “I hope not.” or something to give me more time to think.  I reacted, because I hadn't planned what to say.

3.   Stay in the house

In some situations it makes sense to set up house elsewhere, but in others – especially dads – it can put you in a weak position for custody.  It may be best to consult a lawyer, and look for ways to get through the divorce without moving out.

(But living in the same house with a person with BPD, while going through a divorce, can be extremely stressful and can add risk for domestic violence or false accusations.  The risk may be reduced if you sleep in a separate room, keep your keys and wallet with you, and plan for a quick exit if the stress seems to be boiling over.)

4.   Follow through

The decision to end the marriage – even if you don’t announce it – is likely to change the relationship dramatically.  The other party will know, and if he has BPD, it may play on his fear of abandonment.  There is risk of an “extinction burst” – a last, worst acting-out episode – violence or accusations.

One woman told me, "If I had it to do over, I would follow through the first time I filed for divorce.  I knew it was the right thing to do but I was weak."

5.   Get a lawyer right away

Or consult with one.  Some attorneys offer a free consultation, or you can just pay for half an hour or an hour to ask questions and understand your options.  You may be pressured to give a retainer – usually thousands of dollars – but you don’t have to do that til you are ready.  You can consult with more than one lawyer, and put off a decision to file for divorce until you are sure.

The decision to end a marriage is usually very difficult and stressful.  We may feel alone, especially if BPD is a factor.  Talking openly with others who have been through a similar experience - and drawing on professionals like an attorney and a counselor - can help us avoid mistakes.

I'm not a lawyer, and I can't give you legal advice.  The information here is based on my own experience going through a divorce in one US state, and on what I have read and learned from others who have been through a divorce with a BPD spouse.

What Can I Expect?

Divorcing someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder presents some unique challenges.  But there are some common patterns too.

In this post, common steps along this path are listed, and some terms are defined in layman’s words.

I'll write in more detail soon about each of these topics.

The divorce process varies from place to place and situation to situation – the sequence isn’t always the same – so it’s usually best to consult a local attorney.

1  The straw that breaks the camel’s back

Something happens that causes one party to decide to file for divorce.  Pretty often, when one party has BPD or a similar disorder, this may involve violence, threats, or accusations.  Criminal charges may be filed, or one party may get a restraining order or order of protection against the other.

Who files for divorce may or may not matter.  But sometimes one party may file because they think it will put them in a stronger position, or because they think the other party will be “taught a lesson” if they file.

  DV = Domestic Violence

  OP or OOP = Order Of Protection

  RO or PO = Restraining Order or Protection Order

  TRO or TPO = Temporary Restraining Order or Temporary Protection Order

2  Getting a lawyer

You don’t have to get a lawyer.  If there are no children involved, and not much money, and if both parties are reasonable, it may be best to use no lawyers, or in some US states you can find a single lawyer who can help you work out a settlement.  That approach can save many thousands of dollars, and lots of stress.

In high-conflict divorces, if you have a child together and don’t agree about custody, or if there is a lot of money at stake, you will probably need a lawyer’s help.

Most divorces involving a BPD sufferer fall into the "high-conflict" category, so if your spouse has BPD, you will probably need a lawyer before it's over.

  Pro se =  Without a lawyer;  representing yourself

3  Filing for divorce

This can be done with or without a lawyer.  The forms may be available from the courthouse or online, and if you have questions someone at the courthouse can probably answer them (but they can't give you legal advice).

Filing for divorce usually involves a document that includes complaints against the other party, and a requested settlement, addressing financial issues and custody issues if there are minor children (usually under 18).  The document is often called a "petition", such as "Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage".

4  Service

Once the papers have been filed by one party, copies are delivered to the other party formally, so they can't say they didn't get them.

They may be served by a process server or by the police.  Or the receiving party may come get them in order to avoid the embarrassment of being served at work or in public.

In some US states filing automatically sets in motion the process of court involvement.  In others the filing just sits there until the party who filed for divorce arranges to have them served.

Some lawyers do it the easy way - FAX or mail the papers to the other party.  That may be OK, but there is a risk the other party may say "I never got those papers!".  To make sure the process moves forward, it is best to have the papers served.

5  Response

This is similar to Petition For Dissolution, and also often contains complaints or accusations against the party who filed first.

If your spouse files for divorce, and you don’t file your response in time, you can lose the case by default, and the party who filed gets what they asked for.

6  Temporary orders

Not all divorcing couples get temporary orders.  Either party can file a motion for temporary orders, with requests as to financial and custody issues. The other party can respond in writing, and there may be a hearing so the judge can decide.

In high-conflict divorces, it is usually best to get temporary orders set soon, so conflict will be reduced, and if there are children involved, both parents can see them regularly.

Later in the process, the judge may use the Temporary Orders as the basis for a permanent court order, thinking, "Well it's worked OK so far...".  So it is best to make sure the temporary orders are acceptable for you in every way.

  TO = Temporary Order

7  Discovery

Both sides can demand information from the other side, like bank records, and usually it has to be given.

If you don’t have the information requested, you can say that, but if you have a way to get it you are usually required to provide it.

The discovery process may include "interrogatories" - questions each party must answer in writing and truthfully.  Interrogatories may include financial questions and questions about your past that may reflect on your ability to be a good parent.

8  Depositions

Most divorces don’t include depositions, but they can help get information out in the open.  Either party can file a motion, and if the judge approves it, both parties may be required to answer questions under oath.

The questions are asked by the other party’s lawyer.  You may be under oath for two to four hours, with breaks.  The judge is probably not present, but a record is kept, and your answers can be checked out before the trial.

If there are serious disagreements – like accusations that either party has broken the law or is unfit as a parent – these issues can be brought to light in depositions.

9  Mediation

This might be voluntary – a way the parties try to keep things simple and cheap – or it might be ordered by the court.  In some US states it’s a requirement in every divorce.

“Mediation” usually means that a court-appointed mediator tries to get the parties to agree to at least some things.  The mediator may have no authority to make you agree to anything, but if you agree and sign a document, and the judge approves it, it is binding.

Lots of things may be said during the mediation process, but the mediator and her notes may not be available to use in court.  It may not be possible to subpoena the mediator, so anything said in mediation may remain secret

The mediation process varies a lot from state to state.  It is best to find out exactly how it works where you live, so you will know the best way to participate.

10  Arbitration

In most US states “arbitration” means a binding decision made by the court-appointed arbitrator after talking with both parties.  The parties may agree to this process or it may be ordered by the court.

11  Custody evaluation

Only if you have kids together of course.

Either party might request a Custody Evaluation, and the other party can agree, or the judge can decide.  A Custody Evaluator is appointed – usually a psychologist known to the court.

A Custody Evaluation can cost about $5,000US or more.  There may be additional costs if the evaluation takes a long time.  One of the parties may pay for it or the judge may order them to split the cost.  It usually takes from a few weeks to several months, and involves interviews with both parents and with the kids, and maybe with other people who know the family well.

The Custody Evaluation generally writes a report summarizing the findings, with a recommendation as to custody.  The recommendation will probably have a lot of influence on the judge’s decision if the case goes to court, so the parties may use it as the basis for a settlement if they want to save the cost of a trial.

  CE = Custody Evaluation or Custody Evaluator

12  Psych evals

The court or the CE can ask both parties to submit to a psychological evaluation – a formal test like the MMPI-2 (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Index) – about 500 either/or questions that take about two hours to finish.

The results are usually not perfect for either party.  They can indicate serious problems like BPD or another personality disorder, or smaller issues.

13  Parenting plan

Either party can propose a Parenting Plan.  You can find examples online.  It usually includes a schedule for where the kids will be during the week (Monday through Friday) and on the weekends;  on holidays;  and vacation times.  Plus issues related to religion, health care, etc.

Usually the courts prefer that a young child not be away from either parent for more than a few days, so common schedules in the US include 5-2-2-5 (with Dad for 5 days, then with Mom for 2, then with Dad for 2 days, then with Mom for 5).  Older kids might have a 7-7 schedule (with Dad for a week, then with Mom for a week).  Or one parent may be given primary custody, with the other parent caring for the child only on alternate weekends and possibly an evening or overnight in between.

Again, this is only needed if you have kids in common.

  EOW = Every Other Weekend

14  Guardian ad litem

The judge may appoint an attorney to represent the best interests of the child.  The GAL can spend time with the child and with both parents, and may strongly influence the judge’s decisions.

  CA = Child Advocate (similar to GAL)

  GAL = Guardian Ad Litem

  LG = Law Guardian (similar to a GAL)

15  Property division

In most US states the law calls for an “equitable” division of property.  That doesn’t always mean “equal” because a number of factors, such as the income of the parties, can influence the judge to split the property differently.

Usually the couple’s “net assets” are calculated by subtracting debts, like credit card bills, from assets, like the equity in the house.  Assets and debts accumulated during the marriage are included, but assets and debts brought into the marriage by the parties are usually not included.

Inheritance is usually considered the property of just one party, not "marital" property.

  DP = Division of Property

16  Negotiation

In a divorce, almost everything is negotiable, and in the US more than 90% of divorces are settled by negotiation, so there is no need for a trial.  That can save a lot of money and stress.  When you are divorcing someone with BPD, it may be hard to negotiate at first, but as the trial approaches they often become willing to negotiate.

17  Pre-trial conference

The judge may require a conference to try to settle without a trial.  She may indicate how she is likely to rule on the issues, so the parties can decide if they want to accept that or go to trial.  Some issues may be settled in the conference, and the scope of the trial could be reduced to the issues not decided.

The pre-trial conference may involve a “magistrate” not the judge.  The parties may get an indication as to how the judge will rule, or at least good guidance from a neutral party with knowledge of the law.

Sometimes the conference will only involve the lawyers and the judge or magistrate - not the parties themselves.

18  Expert witnesses

This may be an expensive option, but might be the best way to establish some things so the court can't ignore them, like the impact of a parent's untreated personality disorder on the child, or to refute or "impeach" a biased, incompetent or incomplete CE report.

19  Trial

Both parties can call witnesses and submit evidence, but where I live all the evidence has to be shown to the other side in advance, so there are no big surprises like on TV.

20  Final order

The order will include the Parenting Plan, and financial issues.

In some US states, once the court has ruled, you can’t ask the order to be changed for one or two years, unless you can show that something big has changed.

If one party doesn't follow the orders, you can file a Motion For Contempt, and they may be ruled in contempt of court.  That can mean jail or a fine, but jail is rare.  Courts may issue a fine, with the money going to the kids' education fund, so neither party benefits directly.

  CO = Court Order

21  Resources

Most US states have information available online, including the divorce process and the forms you will need.

Many law firms also have good information online.

Here are some sites with further information on these topics:

An essential book for both you and your lawyer is William A. Eddy's Splitting:  Protecting Yourself While Divorcing A Borderline Or A Narcissist.

I am not a lawyer, and I can't give you legal advice.  This information is based on my personal experience in one US state, and what I understand from reading and talking with others who have been through a divorce with a BPD sufferer.