Now that I’m nearly eight years post-divorce, I thought I’d share my top tips for anyone new to this sometimes scary, often enlightening, frequently courageous transition.
In the Beginning
I met my future husband, Jon, in late summer. Four months later he asked me to marry him. By September we were married and had already been in couple’s therapy for eight months. Our problems were complex, but probably not all that unique. There was substance abuse involved, intimacy issues, and my need to try to control the fear. But even in those early years, we thought we would make it. Both of us truly believed we loved each other as much as a marriage would ever need. But after 13 years of marriage (and 14 years of therapy), Jon and I separated. Within two months, on his own accord, my husband checked himself into rehab. My son and I visited, attended meetings, supported his dad the best we knew how, and learned to live without him. It was the saddest time of my life, but I started to feel better than I had in years. Then, following a year of long talks, lots of tears, and trying to hold onto our marriage, my husband and I decided to divorce.
Does Anything Prepare You For Divorce?
People say nothing in marriage prepares you for a divorce. But I disagree. I think everything we worked on for more than a decade is what led us to finally be able to divorce, and to do it with grace. What I wasn’t prepared for was What Comes Next? There are practical steps you need to take right away, and sometimes it’s difficult to be sensible versus emotional.
I didn’t know how to talk to a financial planner, or even how to talk about money with my ex. Jon had been in charge of our bills and insurance and savings and wills and even our burial plots. Now I had to determine if I could keep my house, if our son could stay at his school, and if my single incoming salary could support my outgoing expenses. I was supposed to itemize our son’s expenses, from daycare to Legos, and this was nearly impossible to get my head around when I kept looking at the tree in our backyard and remembering how much love and hope we’d had when Jon and I planted it years ago in honor of his grandfather. In fact, I could not bring myself to call the house – the home — that we had re-modeled, re-carpeted, re-painted, and re-planted, an “asset.” But I took baby steps, and that is the most important tip I offer: no matter what you are delving into after your divorce, go slowly, even cautiously.
Who’s On Your Team?
I asked people I respected to recommend accountants, lawyers, insurance agents, mortgage lenders. Some of these turned out to be good matches for me. I hired a financial planning firm early on to help me budget, save for college, buy life insurance and revise my will, and this team is still with me today. My divorce lawyer, however, was a bad choice for me. I was not prepared to buy into his version of “wife versus husband.” I did not want to, as my lawyer suggested, “leverage everything the law would allow” because we were talking about the father of my child; a person I wanted to remain close to. My attorney viewed divorce as warfare, and that just wasn’t my philosophy. (If it’s yours, that’s fine – I’m not judging, it just wasn’t right for me. I can give you his number if you like.) If I had it to do over again, I would have fired my attorney and kept interviewing until I found someone who would handle the legal part of my divorce with the same care and character as Jon and I were handling the rest of it. Instead, I let myself be pushed around until I finally pushed back.
Now, you may want a lawyer who will fight for everything the law allows; you may be entitled to the highest level of child support; you may need a sizeable share of your ex’s 401K, stocks and salary in order to maintain your lifestyle or give your children what they’ll need in the coming years. You really do need to be smart about money; just make sure you engage an attorney whose goals match yours.
Tune in next week for The Divorce Doctor Is In, Part II