Six Things Moms Should Know Before Getting Divorced
Divorces suck. Even the good ones are bad. They are as exhausting and expensive as they are liberating.
We’ve been there, we’ve survived that, and our practical advice just might save you some hassle and heartbreak.
I’m not a lawyer, but I am a mother who has been through this process. Half of my female friends are divorced moms and collectively, we’ve experienced the full spectrum from not-so-bad to complete and utter nightmare. I’ve interviewed several of them in search of a few golden nuggets that can help you avoid some common mistakes and financial pitfalls along your own journey.
Think of it as what we’d tell our past selves if we could go back in time.
First things first: I’m going to assume that your marriage has already gone belly-up. You’ve tried everything possible to keep the love alive, but your romance has finally flatlined and at least one of you has made the decision to pull the plug. Maybe your husband suddenly found his soulmate on Parler. Or maybe he borrowed your iPad and accidentally uncovered your romance novel-worthy text exchanges with your high school boyfriend. Or perhaps you’ve both concluded that when push comes to shove, you actually don’t want to be locked down together after all.
Whether you’re the leaver or you’ve been left, you’re probably overwhelmed with emotions like guilt, anger, and sadness and this can make it hard for your best rational self to step up and take the wheel.
So here’s what we would do, if we were you right now.
ONE: Think of going to court as your last resort.
Even if you have children and property together, don’t assume you have to go to court. No matter how bad things seem with your soon-to-be ex, do whatever you can to reach a settlement with the help of a mediator, a lawyer, or both. Taking your spouse to court is usually a long, ugly and protracted process in which you will give up control over your fate and hand it over to strangers. It’s like having a clerk at the DMV decide what’s best for your kids.
You will be at the mercy of the particular judge assigned to your case. Maybe you’ll get lucky, maybe you won’t. The court will decide the schedule, and weeks or months may pass between your appearances before the judge. In a contentious divorce involving child custody you may be subject to a full psychological evaluation, home visits and random drug testing. There is no privacy and every aspect of your life can be put under the microscope. One friend who spent over two harrowing years in a New York City divorce court called the process “humiliating.”
If you are litigating out of anger or spite because you want to punish your ex, you’re unlikely to make good decisions. Get yourself into therapy and deal with that separately.
TWO: Cover your assets.
When you start to divide up the marital assets, you’re going to need to know the details of your current finances.
Make a copy or take a photo of every current bank statement, mortgage statement, loan document, investment document, retirement fund, insurance plan, credit card statement and so on. Be informed about what’s in every account and how much debt you share. The minute you announce your divorce or involve lawyers you might find that you no longer have full access to these documents. You will either pay a lawyer to fight for your right to see them or pay a forensic accountant to get the missing information. This will be painful and expensive, especially when it was previously right in front of you.
Think twice before moving out of your marital home — it’s potentially one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Tempting though it may be when tensions are running high, moving out can be used against you in a myriad of ways including claims that you’ve abandoned your children and forfeited control of your home. In the event that you have no choice but to move out, consult a lawyer immediately.
THREE: Know that your lawyer is not your new best friend.
Lawyers are typically front and center in the negotiations over child custody and material assets. A good one can be a great thing, but it’s important that you understand their role. They fight for what you want, and you pay them by the hour. You will pay for every email they send you, and every email you send back. You will pay for every phone call, no matter how quick or casual, and you will pay every time your lawyer fires off a letter to your ex’s representative or files a motion in court. Yes, they are your advocate, but there is no motivation for your lawyer to help you come to a quick settlement. The longer your divorce drags out, the more money they make and the less you and your children will have for your future. Most of the women I interviewed said their divorces took several years and cost them exponentially more in legal fees than they ever imagined.
Don’t get caught up in petty battles. Stay focused on the bigger picture and don’t let your lawyer fight over things that aren’t important to you. Remember that you can easily spend $50k in legal fees to get $5k worth of old furniture.
FOUR: Exercise your right to remain silent.
“Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” -Miranda warning
Well, hopefully you won’t end up in court, but sharing news of your exciting new relationship or your extravagant vacation plans anywhere online is a bad idea and it can cause unnecessary headaches in a divorce. Same goes for disparaging posts about your ex. It’s not just poor form, they can become ammo against you in the event that your divorce turns into a battle.
Don’t vent to your kids, especially about their other parent. That’s what close friends and therapists are for.
FIVE: Figure out how to work together.
Whether you’re working with a mediator, a lawyer, a judge or all of the above, one day soon they will all be gone from your life. The divorce decree will be filed, the legal bills will be paid, and you and your ex will still have to raise your children together, but separately. Unless he packs up and moves to another continent to start a new family, as happened to one of my friends, you’re likely to find yourself in a co-parenting relationship for years to come.
No matter how detailed your negotiated custody arrangement is, it simply won’t cover everything that will arise. You’ll be texting him to say you need a little more time at work, or to request a scheduling swap so you can celebrate your new partner’s birthday. You’ll be consulting each other on big decisions about medical procedures, vacation plans, tutors, braces, missing shoes and everything in between. You will HAVE to work together. The more civilized your divorce the sooner you can get to that point and the better it will be for everyone.
SIX: Hold your head high.
No one who gets married expects it will end in divorce. It’s natural to experience a sense of failure, embarrassment or even shame at some point. Every woman I interviewed said that at the early stage of divorce she felt socially isolated. A friend who lives in a posh beach town had the perception that her explosive break-up was the source of endless gossip among her happily married neighbors. Another friend said her kids were the only ones in pre-school with divorced parents and she feared they’d feel different from their classmates.
Here’s one thing I can tell you for sure: you may be the first of your friends to get divorced, the first in your kids’ school, or the first in your neighborhood, but you will not be the last. Some of those other “happy couples” you’re comparing yourself to aren’t going to make it either so just keep your chin up and carry on. You’re going to find lots of good stuff on the other side of this journey.
For now — buckle up, know where you want to go, bring your true friends along for support, and get your best self into the driver’s seat.
Your future self will thank you.