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Slide Notes

Choosing the right process and the right professional(s) for your divorce are tantamount to the success of your divorce.

In this workshop we will look in more detail about the process of divorce. We will dive deeply into the ways in which you can legally divorce. And look into the factors that will help you decide which process will be best for your situation.

Additionally, we will explore how to hire the right professional/professionals to help guide you through the process.

How Do I Divorce?

Published on Mar 08, 2019

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How Do I Divorce?

Choosing Your Divorce Process & Professional(s)
Choosing the right process and the right professional(s) for your divorce are tantamount to the success of your divorce.

In this workshop we will look in more detail about the process of divorce. We will dive deeply into the ways in which you can legally divorce. And look into the factors that will help you decide which process will be best for your situation.

Additionally, we will explore how to hire the right professional/professionals to help guide you through the process.

Kira Gould, Divorce Coach

Founder of Getting Unmarried™
I'm Kira Gould, divorce coach, and founder of Getting Unmarried™. Getting Unmarried is your resource for all kinds of divorce information and tools.

Before we start, I want to make sure you're aware that I am not an attorney, nor am I a financial advisor. I'm not giving you specific advice for your situation. This workshop contains general information -- to get you thinking about various possibilities. For individual advice, please speak with your own personal divorce expert, such as an attorney or financial advisor.

Divorce is the legal dissolution of your marriage. And it involves a change of status (going from married to single), the division of your assets and debts, the establishment cash flows between spouses in terms of support (alimony/spousal support and/or child support), and decisions about child custody, if you have children.

What is Divorce?

[Read the slide]

As I mentioned in the Getting Unmarried™ Road Map, I view divorce as a series of strategic decisions, coupled with big emotions, and fueled by your life-changing intentions.

The divorce process is the way in which those decisions get made.

The process you choose will have a major impact on your divorce -- it’s a key factor in whether you will realize your intentions and goals or not.

Typical Documents

  • Petition for divorce
  • Both Parties Confirmed
  • Financial Disclosures
  • Settlement Agreement
  • Proposed Judgment
Though each state (and possibly each jurisdiction/county) will have their own specific requirements, generally a divorce follows a certain progression in terms of document production.

Some courts require couples to go to mediation or counseling before granting a divorce.

Some courts will issue the final judgement via the mail, while others will require you both to attend a hearing.



Research your states divorce laws

Take Stock

  • Are you and your spouse fighting or are you able to sit down and talk?
  • Do you know all your assets, or is your spouse hiding funds?
  • Has there been any sort of abuse?
  • What are your intentions/goals?
Before you will be able to choose a process or a professional, you need to take stock of your situation, and figure out what your reality is, and what you’re hoping to achieve (your intentions!).

Get a journal, and write down your current reality, as well as your hopes, dreams, goals. These will help to clarify which process and which professional(s) will best suit you.

For example, you ideally wouldn’t want to hire an aggressive attorney, if your goal is to transition peacefully from married to single.

You will be choosing the process first, and then the appropriate professional(s).

Complicated or Simple

What type of divorce do you have?
Is your divorce going to be complicated or relatively simple?

A complicated divorce usually involves lots of financial assets, and children. It may involve a spouse who has tendencies toward being difficult, such as a spouse with a high-conflict personality or personality disorder (narcissistic tendencies, bipolar, borderline, etc.).

If you have a complicated situation, you will likely need more support and a firm that has a higher level of expertise.

If you have very little in the way of assets and no children, chances are your divorce will be relatively simple, and the type of divorce guidance and expertise that you will need will be more straightforward.

You may even be able to handle the divorce yourself, without hiring a divorce professional.

That said, I typically suggest to all of my clients that they educate themselves on the family laws in their state, and meet with at least two attorneys, so that they have a basic understanding of what their rights are before making any key decisions.

What's Your Budget?

Knowing what you can afford will help 
According to Legalzoom, the average cost of a contested (meaning NOT amicable) divorce in America is between $15,000 to $30,000, with complicated divorces costing MUCH more than this -- more like $75,000 to over $200,000 and beyond. (I can tell you my own divorce was much, much, much more than this).

Where the average low frills uncontested divorce runs approximately between $300 and $3,500.

An average mediated divorce in America runs between $5,000 and $10,000.

Of course all of these figures depend upon how complicated your marital issues are, the type of professional(s) you hire, and how well you and your spouse are able to cooperate.
Photo by Fabian Blank

The Divorce Process

Let's Look at the Ways You Can Divorce
We will look at all the processes, on a spectrum. Starting with what would be the least expensive, and work for divorces that are simple/straight forward, and move all the way to the most complicated, and expensive options.
Photo by rawpixel


  • Pro Per/Pro Se
  • Online Divorce Services
  • Mediation
  • One Lawyer
  • Traditional Representation/Litigation
  • Trial
We're going to look in detail at each type of divorce process, and how they can be combined to suit your needs/wants/desires. And we'll explore the pros and cons of each process, so you'll be better to assess the benefits and risks.

Pro Per/Pro Se

Do it Yourself Divorce
Most experts will say that a “do it yourself divorce” (handling your own negotiations, settlement and document production, and filing with the court) is only for the couples that have a very straight forward situation. Little to no money or assets, no children, and a marriage of short duration (less than 10 years).

Otherwise you have too much to lose if you don’t handle it correctly. These are major decisions that you will be making about your financial future, and about your children’s future.

Also, if you have assets, such as real property (a house, a building, etc.), retirement accounts, and children -- you are going to come up against some complicated issues very quickly. For example, if you own property together, how will you retitle it? Who’s name is on the mortgage? Will one of you be able to qualify for a new mortgage on your own?

Handling your own divorce without any outside/professional guidance is quite rare.
Photo by rawpixel

Pros of DIY Divorce

  • Cost
  • Control
  • Length of Time
Cost -- If done correctly, DIY can potentially save you lots of money. The filing fees may be the only money you have to pay (an average filing fee can be a few hundred dollars). Many states provide free or low cost forms, plus help to fill them out.

You may avoid or significantly reduce legal fees.

Control -- No one (no lawyers, no judge) will tell you what to do in your divorce (this could also be a con), so you get a high level of control in your divorce, going at your own pace, filing documents when you are ready (within the allowed timelines per the state).

Length of Time -- Moving through divorce without the constraints of busy lawyers’ schedules and courtroom delays, can expedite your divorce process. (You will still be bound by your jurisdiction’s mandated waiting periods.)

Cons of DIY Divorce

  • Time Commitment
  • Overwhelming
  • Exposure to Bullying
  • Risk
Time Commitment -- DIY Divorces require a lot of your time. You need to familiarize yourself with your state’s family laws, the documents required, and the court procedures (document production, filings, and appearance requirements).

Overwhelming -- The forms, including in-depth financial disclosures, are complicated, and leave plenty of room for error. Many people (often highly educated!) have trouble filling them out correctly, which can lead to the forms being rejected, or having errors that will impact your life in serious ways.

Exposure to Bullying -- If there is a power disparity between spouses, any sort of bullying, or any abuse, doing your own divorce will mean one spouse will likely have an unfair advantage. The disadvantaged spouse would likely benefit from having some legal representation as protection.

Risk -- There are many areas of risk involved with doing your own divorce. Including settling for an inequitable/unfair deal, overlooking certain legal rights, possible serious tax consequences (pensions, retirement accounts like 401ks have highly technical requirements associated with splitting them up). Or you might miss out on a possible solution that is better for BOTH you and your spouse.

Warning DIY!

You risk settling for an unfair or inequitable agreement
Unless you completely trust your spouse, and do not believe there are any hidden assets, you risk settling for an unfair or inequitable agreement. You may be profoundly impacted for years to come. The cost in terms of exposure is potentially very high. If you develop your own agreements with your spouse, make sure that you are protected.

One way to mitigate these risks, while still handling much of the divorce yourself is to have an attorney or mediator review your settlement and forms before you file.

Online Divorce Services

Do you have an uncontested, simple divorce?
Online Divorce Websites cater to uncontested divorces -- where both spouses are in agreement, and want to end their marriage amicably.

Legalzoom, which is famous for making legal assistance available to all, used to have a whole family law division, which they sold off to a company called Wevorce.com.

Wevorce’s goal is to make the online experience of divorcing more readily available to couples and families. They offer a bit more support than some other online sites, in that they offer up to three hours per month in divorce mediation. They take you through a questionnaire, and help with the appropriate forms, and then provide you with filing instructions, which will guide you in how to go down to the court and file your documents.

Online services are about document production. The only person who can grant your divorce is a judge.

This is a step up from doing it all yourself. In that you are receiving some guidance. This is likely again for folks that do not have a very adversarial or complicated situation. And this is more about how to get through the documents than personal advice on your specific situation.

Pros for Online Services

  • Cost
  • Ease
  • Privacy
Cost -- Online document production services are typically very inexpensive with basic packages as low as $100 or even less.

Ease & Privacy -- You can do your divorce paperwork on your own time, from the comfort of your own home.

Cons for Online Services

  • Generic
  • Lack of Assistance
  • Lack of Legal Advice
Generic -- You typically get a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all type of document package, sometimes the forms are not even your state’s particular forms.

Lack of Assistance -- You may fill out a questionnaire with some general questions about your situation, and then receive the documents to fill out on your own with little to no assistance or guidance. (Pro: Some online services are starting to add additional services that you can opt in to customize your paperwork further.) The online services also do not file your documentation with the courts. You or your spouse will need to do that, or pay for some legal assistance.

Lack of legal advice -- Typical online providers do not offer any legal advice, they are more about document production.


Mutually Agreed Upon Settlement
A mediator is an impartial and neutral third party who works with both spouses to reach a mutually agreed upon settlement.

Mediation is an entirely voluntary divorce option, which takes place in a conference room rather than a courtroom, and therefore is private, and typically cheaper, faster, as well as more effective than the more traditional divorce processes. Because the participants feel as if they’d had a hand in creating the agreement, they are therefore more likely to abide by it.

It is possible to have a combination of mediation and legal representation. Where you and/or your spouse has an attorney to represent your interests and receive specific legal advice. You could receive the legal advice before, during, and after mediation. And/or you could bring your attorney to mediation sessions with your spouse. Additionally, these meetings could happen with or without a professional mediator present. Some attorneys are trained in mediation methods, and can work cooperatively towards a settlement. This is a form of cooperative divorce, similar to an informal “collaborative divorce”
Photo by Nik MacMillan

Pros for Mediation

  • Reduced Cost
  • More Control
  • Expedited Pace
  • More Effective
  • Minimizes Conflict
  • Private & Confidential
Reduced Cost -- You’re only hiring one expert, rather than each engaging your own attorneys. Typically, a mediator will charge a lower hourly rate, or a package/flat rate, for their services.

More Control -- This is a voluntary process, driven by you and your spouse as you work on possible agreements with the help of an expert (hopefully) trained in negotiation and collaboration. You may work on your settlement until you are satisfied. Mediation avoids the win/lose dynamic of litigation. And your solutions are typically more creative and tailored to your individual/family needs.

Expedited Pace -- Most mediators have a process they use to move through the settlement negotiations with homework in between sessions. You are not waiting on court dates, and it’s only one expert’s schedule to coordinate with, rather than two busy attorneys. The process from start to finish could happen in a matter of four to six weeks. Mediation can go as slow or as fast as you and your spouse want it to.

More Effective -- People feel they’ve had a hand in creating their own agreement. Since they feel heard, they are more likely to follow the guidelines going forward. Statistics show that 85% of mediated agreements are being adhered to one year later, while only 50% of attorney-driven agreements are.

Cons for Mediation

  • Pointless Exercise
  • Pressure to Agree
  • Exposure to Bullying
  • Less Legal Advice
Pointless Exercise -- If one spouse is entrenched in a position and refuses to negotiate.

Pressure to Agree -- It’s the mediators job to reach an agreement, so sometimes the more reasonable spouse will bend more to get the settlement finished. If you know you are a people pleaser, be wary of making more of the sacrifices.

Bullying -- You will most likely be in a room with your ex and a neutral third party. If there is an imbalance of power, you may feel intimidated by your ex, and not fully supported by the mediator, who must remain impartial.

Less Legal Advice -- You will not have an advocate working for you specifically. The mediator is a neutral third party, unable to advocate for either of you individually, or advise either of you of your specific rights. The mediator is able to share with both of you information from past cases, and how a judge might rule, but this is markedly different from being advised by your own attorney.

One “Shared” Lawyer

Similar to Mediation
The ethical principles for lawyers do not allow for an attorney to represent both of you, unless they were working as a mediator (see above).

The thing to remember here is that this single attorney is NOT representing both of you. They are required to be either your or your spouse’s attorney/advocate.

If they act in a mediator capacity, you and your spouse would likely negotiate most of your issues yourselves ("kitchen table mediation") or with the attorney who’s committed to reaching an agreement outside of the courtroom.

After an agreement is reached, that attorney would draft up the documentation for you, and likely file it with the court.

There are many reasons to be wary of this arrangement. Unless you both hire the attorney as your mediator, the attorney would be representing only one spouse, while the other is unrepresented.

Photo by Helloquence

If acting as a mediator, the pros and cons are similar to those for mediation. However, if they are acting as an attorney of record for one of you, and not the other, and preparing all of the documents, and filing your paperwork, there is a particular CON in that the unrepresented spouse will likely be at a significant disadvantage, and if nothing else, will want to have the documents reviewed before filing by a consulting attorney.

Collaborative Divorce

Working with the team approach
You hire a group or “team” of divorce professionals to work with you and your spouse actively collaborating on creative solutions for your divorce. You both agree to create a settlement without going to court. This is a voluntary and private way to end your marriage. Again happening in conference rooms, rather than courtrooms.

It’s typically more expensive than mediation, as you are hiring a whole host of professionals.

Usually the collaborative group consists of two attorneys (one for each spouse), a mental health or child-oriented specialist, a divorce coach, a CDFA or other financial professional.

The idea is that you have all of the protections of traditional representation, which we’ll get to in a moment, however you’re working as a team through all of the issues in a collaborative fashion.

To be truly protected both spouses sign a waiver, stating that if there is any contested court proceedings, that the engagement of the group will terminate.

Meaning that if negotiations break down between you and your spouse during the settlement process, and you decide to go to court, that you must fire your team of professionals, and start anew.

None of them can continue with you if you decide to go to court. The reason for this, is that with a waiver, you create a safe place, certain that nothing you say will be used against you should you end up in a court of law.

Collaborative Divorce is usually more expensive than mediation, and less expensive than litigation.

You can effectively create your own version of collaborative divorce, and many of my clients do just that. Taking care to hire attorneys or mediators who are trained in conflict resolution, and who work to settle cases, rather than litigate. And they consult with divorce coaches, parenting planners, CDFAs, etc. on the side. Creating their own team of experts as needed to support them as they move through the divorce process.
Photo by rawpixel

Pros of Collaborative

  • Expertise
  • Flexibility
  • Privacy
  • Cost
Expertise -- You have the experience and guidance of not only legal representation, but also child and financial specialists. Through the wisdom of these professionals, you and your spouse can brainstorm a wide variety of solutions, until you come up with the decisions that work best for you and your family.

Flexibility -- you get to be creative in designing your settlement agreement; no judge is telling you what to do.

Privacy -- Like mediation, collaborative divorce is voluntary and private. You are negotiating together in the privacy of a conference room, and your agreements form the basis of your legal documents. Rather than proceedings in a public forum, open to all.

Cost -- This is both a pro and a con -- Collaborative divorce is typically more than mediation, but less than litigation. According to some figures, the average collaborative divorce can cost between $25k - $50k.

Cons of Collaborative

  • Precarious
  • Complicated
  • Cost
Precarious -- If you and your spouse hit a major bump in the road, and find yourself unable to move past an important issue, and you’ve all signed a waiver, then you must dissolve your group, and proceed with all new experts/representation going forward. So all of the time and money you’ve spent so far, may all be for naught. This could create a serious delay in your divorce proceedings.

Complicated -- You’re working with a team of busy professionals -- think about how complicated it might be to sync everyone’s schedule. Also, there are many potential “cooks in the kitchen” with two different attorneys advocating for you and your spouse’s respective opinions, plus all of the other experts and their perspectives.

Cost -- Can be more expensive than most people can afford to spend on their divorce.

Two Attorneys

Traditional Representation/Litigation
People typically hire two attorneys if the divorce is going to be contested -- as in you and your spouse are not in agreement.

This is the traditional way that divorces have been handled. With each spouse hiring their own attorney, and letting the attorneys take the lead in negotiating the settlement.

This process is for people who are not amicable. When there has been abuse of any kind. If there’s an imbalance of power, or personality disorders. Or if one partner does not want to divorce. There are any number of reasons

Most traditional cases settle before trial, sometimes on the steps of the courthouse, but typically involve some court oversight, in terms of settling a particular issue or issues that the spouses cannot agree on, such as temporary support, custody issues, etc.

Photo by mikecogh

Pros of Traditional Rep

  • Advocacy
  • Protection
  • Knowledge of Law
Advocacy -- If you have a complicated divorce with many assets, debts, incomes, expenses, children, and/or a spouse who is difficult or high conflict, it can be very beneficial to have an experienced expert with the correct training on your side advocating for your position, and educating you on your rights under family law.

Protection -- If your spouse is a bully, high-conflict, and/or abusive, it is recommended to have a personal advocate to help keep you as safe as possible through the divorce process.

Cons of Traditional Rep

  • Lack of Control
  • Length of Time
  • Expense
  • Adversarial
  • Conflict/Trauma
  • Public
Lack of Control -- You’re at the mercy of the courts. The schedule is what pleases the courts, and what works for your attorneys. The process is driven by the attorneys, with sometimes little input from the actual decision makers (you and your spouse).

Length of Time -- You are reliant on your attorneys to address the issues in your case when it fits in with their schedules. If you need to appear in court, you will be beholden to the next available court date. Some court systems, like Los Angeles, are incredibly overtaxed. It can take months to get in front of a judge. Also, with this extended schedule, the fighting could last for years, causing prolonged exposure to conflict.

Expense -- Attorneys fees can be exorbitant, typically ranging from $300 to well over $1,000 per hour. You and your spouse will each be engaging an attorney, so that means you are paying double for any meeting, court appearance, etc.

Adversarial -- Litigation happens in the court system, which was designed specifically to right wrongs. On your divorce papers is states your name “versus” your spouse’s name. The system sets it up as a fight from the very outset. And law school teaches attorney how to argue and win a case. They are trained in the “win-lose” dynamic, not a collaborative win-win arrangement. Also, the fee structure is such that attorneys financially benefit the longer your case continues. The fighting is profitable for them.

Conflict/Trauma -- All of the studies show that conflict is what does damage to families in divorce, rather than getting divorced. So the exposure to conflict, fighting, and adversarial processes are what cause the trauma to you, your spouse, and your children. If you can minimize the conflict, you can minimize the trauma.

Public -- Your divorce will be a matter of public record, and anyone can enter and sit at the back of the courtroom during your proceedings.

Going to Trial

Taking Your Divorce to Court
This option is on the extreme end of the spectrum. It’s reported that only about 3 to 5% of divorce cases go all the way to trial, where a judge will decide all of the issues in your case.

If you do end up in trial, the judge will hear testimony, review evidence, and subsequently make a ruling.

Photo by IslesPunkFan

Pros of Trial

  • Decisions Will be Made
If you are looking for a decision to be made, and you are dealing with a spouse who will not agree to anything, having a judge review and rule on your divorce or areas of your divorce, will help to provide some forward movement for your situation.

Cons of Trial

  • Lack of control
  • Risky
  • Astronomically Expensive
Lack of control -- There are no guarantees with going to court. You and your spouse are putting your major life decisions into the hands of a judge who is likely overburdened by cases, and has very little time and energy to learn about the ins and outs of your family’s issues. A judge will be deciding your fate. You will have very little say or control over your settlement, and all of the decisions that go into it.

Risky -- So many unknowns! You may not get a fair verdict/ruling. You or your spouse may not agree with the judgment, and decide to file an appeal, leading to years of further court dates, with ever-mounting legal fees. You divorce could continue indefinitely.

Astronomically Expensive -- The cost of going all the way to trial is crazy expensive. The amount of work that goes into preparing for trial requires hours and hours of the attorney’s and other experts time. People have gone bankrupt in the process.

Divorce Professionals

Finding The Right Experts for You
Since no two divorces are the same (each one is like a fingerprint!), you’ll want to find the professional who possesses the skills, expertise, and outlook that will help you resolve all of the issues specific to your situation.

Finding the right professional will play a huge part in how well your divorce goes -- financially, practically, and emotionally.

They will also be a major determining factor in how thorough, fair, and equitable your agreement/settlement will be. And if it will stand the test of time. Otherwise, you may find yourself back at the negotiating table, or even in the courtroom.

Do your research and find a short list of divorce professionals to consider -- at least two, preferably three or four. How do you find these professionals?

Word of Mouth

Finding Professionals Through Referrals
Referrals are a major source for building your divorce support team. Start with someone you know… are you already working with a therapist or couples counselor? Ask that person if they know any mediators or family law attorneys. Have you used a lawyer for other services in the past such as setting up a trust, or drafting documents? Ask that attorney for a referral.

Attorneys will usually be able to refer you to mediators, and vice versa. The network is usually pretty tight, and attorneys and mediators know the other professionals in their field.

You may have friends or relatives who’ve been through a divorce. What professional did they use? What type of divorce did your friend experience? If they had a knock, down, drag out fight, and you’re hoping to be collaborative, the professional they used is likely not the best fit for you.

Finding one quality professional who is the right fit for you will likely lead to finding other like-minded divorce professionals.
Photo by mkhmarketing

Using the Internet

Like everything on the Internet there are some good resources, and some suspect ones. Searching for your divorce professional online is full of unknowns. Some sites to begin your search for divorce professionals (see slide).

Once you’ve identified some professionals you might be interested in, you can go to their individual websites, and learn more about them.

Have a phone call or schedule an initial meeting with each professional.

Have a phone call or schedule an initial meeting with each professional.

Finding an Attorney

What to Look Out For...
Not all attorneys are the same. Like I said above, they each have different personalities, training, and experience. Like all human beings, they have strengths and weaknesses, as well as areas of particular interest and proficiency. You need to do your research. Get clear on your intentions and goals.
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Questions for You

  • Do you want a lawyer who’s excellent at working collaboratively
  • Is your divorce likely going to be high conflict?
  • Do you want someone who’s intimidating and will set firm boundaries?
  • Is your divorce heavy on the financial side?
  • Or are your issues mostly child-related?
Knowing your needs will help you to decide which attorney, and what style will be best for you.

Knowing what you can afford will help you to choose the right attorney and process for you and your situation.

Typically, family law attorneys charge by the hour with fees ranging between $300 to $500. In metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles where I live, they can easily go up to $1,000 per hour and beyond. If you decide to hire a lawyer for your case, typical retainers can be between $5,000 to $15,000 at the outset. You can imagine how this leads to some astronomical bills very quickly.

Some attorneys will only work with you as your attorney of record, while others will act in a more advisory role, and charge you for what they call “unbundled legal services.”
Photo by IsaacToru

Lawyers are typically trained to argue and win. This may not necessarily be the best method for you if you’re looking to divorce amicably.

One final reminder if you're considering hiring an attorney. You'll want to bring a pretty extensive list of questions to ask the attorney when you're meeting with him or her. For a list of possible interview questions check out our website. We have lists and more resources there to share with you.
Photo by Solal Ohayon

Hiring a Mediator

Not All Mediators Are Created Equally
Some mediators have a therapeutic background, some have a legal background, some are simply trained as mediators, some have no specific training at all.

As mediation is an unregulated industry in most states, you’re going to need to do your own background checks. Interview your mediator candidates thoroughly, finding out specifically what training the mediator has had.
Photo by Tim Gouw

Mediator Questions

  • Are they trained in conflict resolution?
  • What training do they have in resolving complex financial matters?
  • How long have they been practicing?
  • What type of mediation do they practice?
  • What is their success rate?
  • What and how do they charge?
Do 90 - 95% of their clients resolve their differences, and go all the way to filing their final settlement?

How much does a divorce usually cost? (This will likely be a range, as we know: each divorce is unique!) Choosing simply on price usually isn’t recommended. You may get what you pay for...

Other Divorce Professionals

  • Certified Divorce Coach
  • Therapist
  • Parenting Coordinator
  • CDFA (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst)
  • Forensic Accountant
  • Vocational Evaluator
It takes time and effort to find the right divorce professional. But it will be more than worth it in the end!

Other than the decision to divorce itself, deciding on your divorce process, and the right professional to lead you through it are the most important decisions you will make.

Photo by Mark Autumns