I have two friends who are at opposite ends of the divorce spectrum.
“Kristen” and “Chad” have been married for 28 years and have four children together. Kristen is a stay at home mom and hasn’t worked a day in her life. While Kristen acknowledges that her marriage had gotten boring for the past many years, there was never a hint of real trouble or unhappiness. Chad never once mentioned a separation or divorce until he came home one day and told her he just bought a home, he was moving out, and their marriage was over. Kristen was completely blindsided. Three weeks later, Chad moved out, handed her a divorce settlement, and said that she had 24-hours to agree to it and if she didn’t, she would get a lot less with attorneys involved.
I begged her to not sign, get an aggressive attorney, and let the process play itself out. Kristen didn’t want to fight. Maybe he’ll reconsider. Even if he doesn’t, he has her and their children’s best interests at heart and would never try to screw them over. She wants to just sign the papers. She feels broken, afraid, and already tired.
“Shari” and “Ronald” have been married for ten years and Shari has wanted out of the marriage for several years. She has mentioned divorce to Ronald but somehow, they are both still hanging on, hoping that they will be able to fix the relationship. Always the planner, Shari is taking nothing for granted, however. She has already interviewed several attorneys “just in case.” She knows what steps she must take if separation becomes a necessity. She wants to stay living in their home while the divorce moves forward and if Ronald refuses to move out, she knows exactly what steps she must take to request a move from a judge. If that fails, Shari has already scoped out rentals. She has made a budget to ensure she can afford life without Ronald, and she is as mentally and emotionally prepared as she can be.
…And then there’s me. Like Shari, I wanted a divorce from my husband from just months into our marriage. When I finally discovered that his bizarrely explosive and unpredictable behavior stemmed to alcoholism (I was totally unaware of his addiction while we were dating, call me stupid), I knew that our marriage was on borrowed time. Over the course of our marriage, I interviewed attorneys, maintained a good job, and knew exactly where I was moving when I finally pulled the plug. When I finally left my husband, it was chaos and something I could not have predicted. I was diagnosed with cancer and just days later, packed things into trash bags and moved two states away and into my parents’ basement. I then hired an attorney and started fighting the husband and cancer at the same time.
While divorce and splits are never pretty or perfect, being mentally and emotionally prepared is essential. In my case, I ended up hiring my husband’s ex-wife’s attorney. I had interviewed her before and I liked her. I knew from first-hand experience that she was aggressive and knew her stuff. When my husband battled his ex-wife, she won every single time and Rob (my husband) was terrified of her. When Rob tried to bully me during the divorce and get me to sign and agree to things that were to my detriment, I cut off all contact with him. It took almost two years to finalize our divorce and I was prepared for the long battle.
Divorce can take a long time. Know that. Take a deep breath. Go to yoga if you must. Be calm. And then let the process play itself out. If your ex is trying to speed it up, or never stops screaming at you, or is promising that the two of you might get back together if you’ll just be reasonable and sign your rights away, STOP. Do NOT listen to him.
Whether you are in the divorce process, are considering it, or perhaps are just feeling in your gut that things aren’t ok in your marriage, getting prepared is in your best interest. Here are 5 ways you can do just that:
1. Interview attorneys
Do not just hire the first attorney you find from a Google search. Pick a few and interview them. Ask around. No doubt you know many people who are divorced. Who did they use and are they happy with the results? Maybe the other side’s attorney was far better. I hired my husband’s ex-wife’s attorney. It was a fantastic choice. She knew my husband’s background already and she was highly aggressive. Even more important, she never rushed anything along. When my husband was trying to slam through agreements and artificial deadlines, we ignored them. She helped calm me when I was angry and desperate. At the end of the day, I got everything I was entitled to. If I had hired a different attorney, things may have turned out much differently. If you have an attorney you don’t trust or like it’s ok to fire her and get a new one. Trust your instinct.
2. Research the law
Even if you have an attorney, you should still be doing your homework. Take nothing for granted, including your attorney’s skills. Fact-check. The internet offers incredible information and chat rooms where you can get opinions from others.
3. Get your support group together
There will be times during the divorce process that you’ll do just about anything to make it stop. This is when you’ll become vulnerable and make rash decisions. Your husband will smell your weakness like a shark smells blood. He will use that to hurt you. Make sure you have a great support system to keep you strong. A therapist, support group (there are many on-line support groups if that’s more convenient), friends, a pastor… You will need them to keep you strong and resilient. Get good self-help books, join a yoga class or book club. Practice meditation. Pray a lot. Eat healthy. Exercise. Get adequate sleep. Whatever you must do to keep yourself strong and sane, do it.
4. You owe him nothing. Take care of you first
I know too many women who end up feeling sorry for their husband even though he has caused the end of the marriage. Women can tend to be more nurturing and we often want to fix things. During a divorce, however, it’s time to become a bitch. Stop being nice, stop worrying about him, and take care of you and your children. He is no longer your responsibility or your partner. He is now your adversary. As uncomfortable as that may be, it is the truth. I nearly became that woman. Though I was in the midst of chemo and sicker than I thought possible, I nearly agreed to a divorce settlement that would have caused me unimaginable financial harm. I actually felt sorry for Rob (for about ten minutes!) and his ability to rebound financially from our divorce. And then I confided in my near-decision to my best friend, Julie. She talked me off the ledge and encouraged me to call my attorney before I did anything really stupid. I did. My attorney gave me a good lecture, and I stopped all communication with Rob. The divorce took a lot longer simply because Rob tried to continue bullying me. He made wild accusations to the court (like I was making up cancer to get sympathy) and that I was stealing money. I simply stayed calm and let the process play out. Thank goodness my “sympathy” for him didn’t trump my needs.
5. Know your finances
Know where the money is. Get copies of bank statements, prior tax returns, and even credit reports for you and your husband. Keep them in a safe place that you can access quickly. Create a budget so you know what life will look like without him. Save money. Keep extra cash in an envelope that you can access in an emergency. Have your own credit card. Make sure you have a car in your name. Leave nothing to chance.